Arno Carstens doesn’t seem to have suffered the same public shame as has been directed at Tony Yengeni, says Murray Williams.
Cape Town - Two Capetonians walk into a bar (or somewhere where the grog’s good). They both have powerful voices – one’s a famous rock star, the other’s a top politician.
They’re both good-looking. They both dress superbly.
They both drink (allegedly).
They both get into their fancy cars and both drive off into central Cape Town.
They’re both pulled over by The Law and arrested for drunk driving (alleged).
Mayco member JP Smith said this week: “On Sunday night, officers spotted the Maserati driving erratically. Officers used a screening device, which showed (Tony Yengeni) was substantially over the limit.”
A couple of years earlier, on December 19, 2010, a policeman pursued a black Mercedes-Benz with tinted windows, driven by the Arno Carstens, former Springbok Nude Girls frontman.
A constable, Lionel Galant, reportedly said: “I… asked him to get out. I noticed he was unsteady on his feet and… he smelled of alcohol.” Carstens pleaded not guilty to a charge of drunk driving, and driving with a blood-alcohol level of 0.21g/ml as the alternative charge. The legal limit is 0.05g/ml.
So, like Yengeni, he was also allegedly “substantially over the limit”.
Now in a country with one of the highest road death tolls in the world, you wouldn’t be surprised if Yengeni is viewed with some contempt.
But is that because of his alleged drunk driving? And, if so, is Carstens viewed with the same public disapproval?
Since his arrest, he, Carstens doesn’t seem to have suffered the same public shame as has already been directed at Yengeni.
It is, of course, correct that neither has been found guilty in a court of law.
Carstens’s lawyer, Milton de la Harpe, argued in the Cape Town Magistrate’s Court last month the blood-testing kit procedures taught to nurse Sheila Newman did not match those on the box and that incorrect procedures showed a huge chance for the blood sample to be contaminated by bacteria or other micro-organisms. He further argued the blood was mysteriously left unattended at one point, and that the reading of 0.21g/ml would have made his client blind drunk, which the nurse testified he was not, so must be mistaken.
Every accused has the legal right to challenge every facet of the State’s evidence. Maybe a court will find they’re both innocent.
In the meantime, no one’s too bothered. So where does that leave us?
Perhaps we need to admit that drunk driving is still thought of as “Crime Lite”.
Any public shame cast at Yengeni this week had nothing to do with alleged drunk driving. Instead, one suspects, Yengeni-haters have simply used his latest alleged crime to kick him when he’s down. Any dislike stems from his criminal record for defrauding Parliament, or the fact that he was once a commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
For some, that still makes him about as guilty as you can get, while for others, his MK courage will make him a hero for eternity.
Carstens, equally, is judged by the quality of his music.
Their alleged behaviour behind the wheel is all but irrelevant to the collective South African public.
Because very few South Africans think drunk driving is really such a big deal at all. If they had to be really honest about it.
* Murray Williams’s column Shooting from the Lip appears in the Cape Argus every Friday. Follow him on Twitter: @mwdeadline
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.