Joburg Justice

Long overdue but I have the link for the in depth project that the class produced last year. It was a long and hard process, I like the product.

Link to the general site:

Joburg Justice

I was in the economic justice group. Here is my written feature:

The rusty wheels of justice

And here is my multimedia:

Magistrate’s courts in desperate need of revamp

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Miller Party

Last week saturday was the miller party experience hosted in a guesthouse near Walkerville, Vereeniging.

Here are some pictures my friend and I took.

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end product

The indepth project is over. if all goes according to plan the site will go live today. i will post the link as soon as it is ready.
in the end, both of the court managers did not get back to me. which isn’t great but i did include it in the story. i hope whoever is reading this likes the final product. the class is exhausted and are now doing the power reporting conference. Myself and Lisa are interns at Al Jazeera. its an interesting switch from the Vuvuzela newsroom to this one. one thing is that i’m a now a PRO at writing emails. new venture. i like.

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Day 8 & 9 of #vuvuindepth

Wednesday

I had a very productive afternoon at Randburg Magistrates court.

Predictably, the security guards confiscated my camera even after I had explained what I was doing there and that I was not really from a newspaper (which makes people very sceptical). After I got my letter from Jo-anne Richards stamped by the court manager my camera and I scoured the courthouse for photo-ops and interesting people to chat to. TJ helped me come up with a script of what kind of pictures I should be take to bring across my point/angle. I had it written down on a piece of paper. There I am, trudging through the court with a paper in my hand, a notebook, a camera, two bags and my cellphone trying to blend in with the crowd in the court.

I got some good photos and spoke to mostly the staff of the court. The clerks were kind enough to let me have my lunch with them. Overall, by the end of the day it appeared that the court was running well but not as well as it could be. One would think that a court in a suburban area would have its shit together (like many of the now disenchanted staff said)but that wasn’t really the case. One clerk told me a horrendous story about the roof of the court collapsing. Luckily, no inmates escaped and no one was hurt but more than 200 cases were postponed and a major backlog ensued, according to this article.

The roof collapsed in November 2010. Picture: looklocal.co.za

On the backdrop of this incident and a general lack of maintenance of court buildings (at both Protea and Randburg), I’m interested in the staff that works in courts and how they navigate around these problems to complete their daily tasks. The minister of justice Jeff Radebe delivered a budget speech earlier this year where he said: “R92-million will be spent on day to day maintenance and R279-million on rehabilitation of court facilities over the next 3 years.”  My interest will be to see how this money allocated to court maintenance is experienced on the ground by people who work in these courts.  Is there any maintenance at all? What are the obstacles? Is this area based (Protea and Randburg)? And ultimately find out how this effects the kind of justice can be offered to the public.

Randburg court under construction Picture: looklocal.co.za

Thursday

Protea court was buzzing with excitement over the Jub-Jub judgment that was going to be delivered today. The court manager did not respond to any of my calls or emails so I took a chance and went to the court with my camera. It was fairly easy getting through the security check point because every second person in that court was a journalist with a camera. Once inside I went straight to the Jub-Jub courtroom because the security guards had saddled me with two men who were also going to hear the judgment. “Oh, just go with her, she’s going there now”.  The courtroom was packed and there were video cameras and people writing furiously in their notepads. I got bored after three minutes of hearing the magistrate recap the case in a monotone voice and then hearing the same thing repeated in Zulu by the interpreter. I left and began pretending like I was taking photos of the gorund or the trees. I just kept snapping pictures all around the court grounds and in some deserted rooms.

I had an interesting conversation with two men who were about to be interviewed for the post of interpreter. One of them spoke seven languages and the other spoke 11. That blew me away. 11 languages? I would hire him.

I also spoke to interpreters who already work there and two public prosecutors. My notebook is such a mess from trying to scribble anywhere there is a blank space while not disturbing the flow of the conversation. I find people react better when the tone is more casual than a formal interview where they begin to sensor themselves and peer at my notes (which makes me uncomfortable, really). Never thought I would say this (ever) but I wish I knew some tee line!

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Day 6 and 7 of #vuvuindepth

Monday

Monday was semi-productive. I went to Protea court. Yes, again. One my classmates said: “Seems to me like all you do is go to court.” Well, this is after all the site of my research; the courthouse. It would be rather strange if I wasn’t in court as often as I could to collect data.

I went with Nandi and Charlotte. On Friday I had set up meetings with; a magistrate, two public prosecutors, an interpreter and the most importantly the court manager. I made sure that I emailed the court manager about the topic im dealing with and what I needed from her. No response. I was still eager when Monday rolled around and walked into her office with confidence. It took all of 10 seconds for me to realise she wasn’t having any of the “I’m a Wits student and I need help” shpeel. She barely looked up from her computer screen the whole time I was in there. So anyway, she refused to give me the court budget because I am not a “’public entity’ like the public protector”. Every alternative I suggested was met with a casual “no, I have final say… I’m the court manager.”

I left to find all the other people who had agreed to see me that day. Which was more work than I thought because I literally had to go peeking into rooms that they might be in after their offices were vacant. When I found one prosecutor she strode past me with an apologetic smile “So sorry, I can’t right now…still in court…cant you find somebody else,” she said. As it turned out, not really.

In the end I managed to get some statistics about the court roll and the number of new cases the court gets. One prosecutor agreed to talk to me, even then she didn’t want to be identified.

I don’t understand why people in the justice system are so inaccessible? Aren’t they supposed to be serving the public? Being helpful and transparent? Also we had a meeting but most importantly I spoke to T.J who helped me conceptualise my multimedia project which is meant to complement the main written piece but also stand alone (If I understood correctly).

Tuesday

After my meeting with Ruth and T.J yesterday I thought I should better try and plan a little better going forward. So I emailed the Protea court manager to again in order to set up a meeting. If she doesn’t get back to me, I will call and then just go over there. I also contacted Randburg to ask for camera access, they have yet to respond to me but I am optimistic.

I’m hoping to commission the help of a classmate of mine who is brilliant with illustrator, Anina, to help me with my infographics. After another classmate of ours said we were all just “jumping on the infographics bandwagon” because we thought it was easy. I will refrain from being as puerile as she was in this post.

Also I have run out of airtime and money to be taking taxis everyday to the courts. That’s not encouraging at all.

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Day 4 & 5 of #vuvuindepth

Thursday

Today was Randburg Magistrates Court day. It was interesting. I had a few transport and directional problems but it all came together nicely. I was directed to the court manager who was fairly forthcoming with the budget of the court. Of course first she said: “I’ve never been asked for the budget before…let me call my regional supervisor and check if I can locate it.” about five minutes later she “located it”, printed it out and even gave me an envelope.

She also asked a court clerk to help me around the court. He showed me where everything was and gave me a lot of useful information about how a court that particular court was structured. I sat in some cases out of pure curiosity. Went to the bail court. It was …interesting. The crowd that gathers in bail court is always the same. If you have ever been to a bail court, you know what I’m talking about.

Friday

Protea Magistrates Court. I’m becoming a regular there. Nandi and I had to work as a team because she needed a wing-man to accost unsuspecting subjects for her topic. While I needed someone to film and record audio while I did my interviews. Spoke to a few people but overall I was told to either come back on Monday, or come back after lunchtime or “I’m actually on my way to court right now”, while I shuffled after them with my satchel and notepads.  I knocked on the door of the court manager four times throughout the day and was told she would be back at lunchtime by a straight-faced admin person. Lunchtime came and went, was told to come on Monday.

While talking to an interpreter he casually placed his hands over my breasts. I flicked his hand away and he laughed. Of course I had to keep talking to him because I wanted that sound bite real bad. He ended not wanting to comment and hollered something rude when we left.  Douche.

I’m hoping this Monday will be better.

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Day 3 for #vuvuindepth

This morning kicked off with a highly enlightening meeting with Robyn for Nandi and I to focus our ideas a little more (i shamefully forgot to make the rooibos tea she jokingly requested).

Robyn asked us to tell her our ideas and what our particular points of interest were and then helped us focus it more on an achievable topic. Score.

YES.

My topic was still very vague and broad: I wanted to find out about court efficiency and its relation to bail being granted. It was interesting to me how bail was awarded to offenders; they were merely asked whether they have previous convictions, asked what they can afford for bail and if they had a fixed address. The court basically took the prisoners word for it, no real verification from (from what I observed, I could be wrong). The senior state prosecutor that I spoke to on Monday said their main obstacle with regards to bail was that they could not confirm previous cases. This is a clear gap and inefficiency in the system that was illustrated by Robyn in an elaborate analogy about a man who went on a killing spree after his address and previous criminal record were not verified. It was rather detailed for an example (which was hilarious) and really drove home the need for these processes to function effectively.

After throwing around some ideas, we settled on looking at the court budget and how this affects efficiency. Before you yawn or close this page bear with me. If a court has more money they can afford to get, for instance a stenographer machine (better infrastructure) and five magistrates instead of two (lighten load of court roll). The court would undoubtedly be more effective is the court roll was not so clogged up.

Ruth came in at the end to listen to the outcome of our topic with a rusk/biscuit packet. I do this thing where I can speak clearly about my idea to Robyn and completely understand it but 10 minutes later am unable to relay all the genius to Ruth. Not a reflection on my I.Q, obviously. But I understand my topic, which is the most important thing.

So I’m tomorrow I’m going to Randburg Magistrates court. To ask for the court budget and do an ethnographic study.

Still struggling for ideas on multimedia portion of my project.

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