The chaos revealed by the court’s ruling is startling. A man, convicted of several serious crimes, is given leave to appeal – but the court record forming a crucial part of any appeal has vanished.
None of the relevant authorities want to concede that they are responsible for its disappearance and no one wants to pay the R32 000 it will cost for a new set of documents to be drawn up. So the man stays in jail and his sentence ticks by, along with the chances for the appeal to which he is entitled. From the court’s decision earlier this month the background emerges with only a few intriguing details.
Local elections last month were a success for our democracy but they had an unforeseen spin-off that could prove disastrous for the rule of law in the southern African region.
President Jacob Zuma and Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe, involved in election work at home, were unable to attend several SADC meetings during this time. In their absence, SADC made unprecedented decisions about the future of the judicial body set up to deal with regional litigation on human rights and other issues: SADC leaders effectively dismantled this court and sacked the judges who had served on it.
The judge said to counsel: “The evidence you have led for the whole day has not touched a damn thing about the case that is before court against your client.” A little earlier the judge had said, again to counsel for the accused: “You know that a lawyer is a mini encyclopaedia; do not play such a damn fool simply to waste time.”
Neither of these remarks is up to the crude language notoriously used by advocate Nehemiah Ballem to Judge Lee Bozalek in the Western Cape High Court earlier this year, but the comments were clearly inappropriate all the same and the Appeal Court did not hesitate to point this out.
This is the story of a senior business executive who could give corrupt government officials a useful lesson in salary ballooning. When his bosses rewarded him with a 21 percent increase, for example, he cleverly used the dollar/rand exchange rate to inflate that hike to 100 percent. Ralph Dell was managing director of Seton South Africa, part of a company that boasts of its leading role in the car leather industry.
In November 2001 he earned R68 500; in January 2002 his monthly salary stood at R121 000. Fortunately for him, the company’s other three directors – the only people more senior to Dell – were based overseas and it took them some time to become aware of what was happening. Once the questions started, however, they appointed a firm of accountants to look at the books more closely and then referred the matter to a disciplinary hearing.