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None of the rights of the Boeremag accused were violated during the trial and the fact that the trial has lasted so long can only be blamed on the accused themselves, says Pretoria High Court Judge Eben Jordaan.
On Tuesday, during the second day of his judgment, he highlighted various reasons for the delays in the more than nine-year-long trial and said both he and the State had leaned over backwards to accommodate the now 20 accused over the years.
The first three accused were arrested in April 2002 after police raided their homes. During the course of that year, the bulk of the accused were arrested. The last accused, “Oom” Vis Visagie – the chaplain of the organisation – was the last to be arrested in February 2003.
The judge said that by the time the matter was set down to go on trial in May 2003, there were about 700 statements in the police dossier which had to be handed over to each of the accused.
The trial could not start on that date, as the accused had problems with their legal aid representatives. They also launched various applications at the time, ranging from attacking the legality of the constitution, the jurisdiction of the court and applications for the judge and the head of the prosecution team to recuse themselves.
The first State witness could, as a result, only take the stand in October 2003 and his evidence had lasted several months. The judge added that an array of further applications followed – which include gripes about loud music in jail, bright lights shining into cells, complaints about prison food and problems with the then Legal Aid Board.
Judge Jordaan said there had been more than 40 such applications during the trial, which took up a lot of time.
He had written more than 20 judgments during this time, many of which are now regarded as case law.
Several of the accused changed their version of events during the trial, which caused further delays. Others changed defence advocates on numerous occasions. The judge said while there were, at present, nine defence advocates, 16 different advocates were on record during the hearing of the case.
“A lot of court time had been given to the accused to consult their legal representatives and several State witnesses were called back to the stand on the instructions of the accused. The court leaned backwards to assist the accused to prepare for their trial,” the judge said.
An application by two of the accused that they should be declared prisoners of war who should be treated as such, took about three months to be disposed of. The State had pointed out that 251 court days had been wasted for no apparent reason.
Judge Jordaan said a total of 195 witnesses took the stand over the years, some testifying for months. The case further lingered as the defence teams had to obtain legal aid funding to prepare for final arguments. The court record ran into more than 49 000 pages and there were hundreds of exhibits.
Some of the accused complained earlier about being charged with treason, because, they said, the description of the charge was so wide that it violated several of their constitutional rights. They said their actions had been politically motivated.
But Judge Jordaan said they had not been accused of minor political deeds, but of violent crimes, such as causing a series of bomb explosions during which one person died. There was no evidence that the accused had tried to negotiate the right to self determination, he said.
The second day of the judgment was marked by fewer spectators in the public gallery, while the heavy police presence prevailed. The accused seemed relaxed, many carrying newspapers and magazines into the dock.
Judge Jordaan, in no uncertain terms, warned the media that he would reconsider their presence in court if they violated his order that those accused who did not want to be photographed or appear on television had to have their wishes respected. Only two of the accused indicated that they did not want to be photographed.