Landmark case pose legal challenges
Pretoria - This year has seen a mixed bag of the good, the bad and the funny in courts around the country, including in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria.
A new law was passed, paving the way further for the rights of children and, generally, criminals once again felt the brunt of the law as they were handed tough prison sentences and even animals challenged some judicial minds.
A Nigerian citizen, Ediozi Odi, received six life sentences and an additional 129 years' imprisonment for human trafficking and related charges after he kept three young girls hostage to work as sex slaves.
They were lured from the streets to a house in Springs with promises of a better life. But once inside the house, they were fed drugs and locked up in a dungeon inside the house.
In sentencing him, Judge Ntvaril Ranchod said human trafficking not only caused trauma to victims, but also to communities.
Meanwhile, in one of the most gruesome murder cases to serve before court, graphic evidence was delivered on how same-sex couple Joey and Anisha van Niekerk were tortured, gang raped and eventually murdered in Mooinooi, near Brits.
Their five alleged killers pleaded not guilty and their trial will resume next month. Koos Strydom, said to be the mastermind behind the killings, has in the meantime committed suicide in jail in October.
Then there were those who this year had all kinds of explanations to try and get out of trouble.
One such person was Ben Nkomo, who tried very hard to explain why his fingerprint appeared on the palisade fence of a house where someone was robbed and killed. As he could not wish his fingerprint on the scene of the crime away, he had all kinds of excuses. One excuse was that in searching for work, he got around and he probably touched this fence at some stage.
Another excuse was that he was a Zimbabwean and confronted by the police, he ran away as he did not have his passport with him.
He said he jumped fences and this was probably one of them. His third excuse, that the fingerprint was a fabrication by the fingerprint expert, also did not go down well with the judge. At the end, he'll spend 20 years in jail.
On a more positive note, domestic workers scored a huge victory when the court ruled that those injured on duty, will be able to claim damages. A judge declared that the exclusion of domestic workers in the Compensation for Occupational injuries and Diseases Act is unconstitutional.
The victory was sparked by the family of Maria Mahlangu, who died while she was working for a Pretoria East family.
Children's rights also received a huge boost with the judgment delivered in the Eastern Cape which declared that no child - whether South African or foreign - may be denied schooling in the country.
This is regardless of whether the parents or guardians could provide the school with a birth certificate or identity document.
Another victory for children came when the Constitutional Court ruled in a majority judgment that the names of children accused (under the age of 18) may not be revealed, even after they had turned 18. These orders came as a victory for the Centre for Child Law, who have called for the additional protection of children.
South Africa's dire foster care system also received yet another bailout this year, when the court ruled that current outstanding foster care orders will remain valid until the end of November 2020.
The Social Development Ministry had to urgently turn to court as foster care orders for about 41 000 children ran out at the end of November. If this happened, it would have left these children out in the cold.
In another emotional argument to court, lawyers acting for the organisation Voice of the Unborn Baby, asked the court to allow for the amendment of legislation which does not allow for the official burial of a foetus up to 26 weeks of gestation.
As things now stand, parents who lose a foetus younger than 26 weeks, do not have the right to bury or cremate the remains. These remains are regarded as medical waste and incinerated alongside other medical waste.
The court is due to deliver judgment on this early next month.