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.
Reading the story of Zoleka Erasmus is like peering into a half-waking nightmare, the kind in which there’s just enough reality to make things truly scary.
It was 7.30am on August 29, 2007, and Erasmus, a teacher, was driving to school. Then she was stopped at a roadblock and instantly began to experience South Africa from another perspective: she was arrested, handcuffed to a man she did not know – to prevent her from “escaping”, according to the traffic cop who arrested her – driven to the police station and detained in a lock-up with several men arrested in the same roadblock and one other woman.
Perhaps because I read court decisions for a living I have developed a great appreciation for judgments that are clear and to the point. The most important thing is for the reader – any reader – to know, without doubt, what a judgment means.
In a recent lecture, Jeremy Gauntlett SC quoted an example from a decision by Albie Sachs, delivered during his time as a justice of the Constitutional Court.