It was a remark that no one who heard it in court is likely to forget: victims of serious torture in Zimbabwe found it “offensive” when the perpetrators came to South Africa on shopping trips and enjoyed immunity from any legal action.
Wim Trengove SC, who made this observation, was talking about his clients – supporters of the Zimbabwean opposition who were rounded up in Harare during 2007 and allegedly subjected to severe and systematic torture.
Few people think of court decisions as inspiration for comedy. This would be a mistake. Especially if you are a lover of Norwegian blue parrots, John Cleese and Michael Palin. I am thinking, on this occasion, of a new decision from the labour courts in which a problem arose because of how long the record had taken to prepare.
Transcription and correction of the record of events had been inordinately delayed, and some explanation was necessary. Judge Anton Steenkamp, who dealt with the matter, noted that after a representative of SA National Parks (SANParks) (one side in the dispute) had collected the papers as required, there was an unusual foul-up by the outfit that was transcribing and typing up the record.
Though beset by serious problems of his own, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has a lot of advice for judges in the rest of Africa. Speaking at Chatham House in London last month, the chief justice’s given topic was “The Rule of Law in South Africa: Measuring Performances and Meeting Standards”. However, after just a few remarks, he said that since other African countries faced similar challenges, “albeit to varying degrees”, he had decided not to confine his address to South Africa but instead would deal with the “broader African situation”.
This was a “beautiful continent”, he said, with many people and large tracts of land. Africa, rich in minerals and natural resources, had “what it takes” to “bask in the glory of sustainable economic development and prosperity” and for its people to enjoy “stability in an environment of good governance, facilitated by an independent, efficient and effective court system”.