Courts for the corrupt

David Bullard asks why our judicial system is the "go to" defence mechanism for our country's crooks


To gain a full understanding of the South African legal system it’s necessary to realise how it differs from other legal systems in the world. If you’ve all been paying attention as I am sure you have you will have noticed that the first thing a politician or a public protector does when accused of malfeasance is to launch legal proceedings.

The porcupine will reverse into a predator with sharp quills at the ready, many animals will appear to make themselves larger in the hopes of frightening off their enemy, and some birds and insects have markings which replicate eyes which they use as a defence mechanism when under attack.

But our beloved politicians and their cadres immediately head for the courts which is a strategy they know will allow them enough time to enjoy their ill gotten gains and will almost certainly never reach a conclusion.

They can do this of course because they never have to foot the legal bills. If you or I should enter into litigation it would almost certainly bankrupt us with an SC charging around R5 000 a day to appear in court and that is on top of all the background work that is apparently necessary to fill all those intimidating files that lawyers like to take to court. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

They are normally dragged in on a trolley, probably by the hapless clerk that had to photocopy all the documents in the first place. I suspect this is just a ruse to spook the prosecution.

When I threatened the Mail & Guardian and a few impoverished individuals with legal action for defamation back in 2014 the firm of Webber Wentzel went to enormous pains to collect photocopies of everything I had ever written or tweeted to prove to the court that I was a ‘racist, a misogynist, a rape apologist and a homophobe’. All this was carefully labeled as separate evidence in eight bulging lever arch files and included not only past Out to Lunch columns going back many years but also car reviews and travel articles which rather puzzled me.

We never came to court because the defendants refused to provide the answer to a simple question that would have utterly destroyed their case but I would have loved to have learnt how my review of the Maserati Quattroporte (item 43 in file 6 m’Lud) would have swung the case in their favour.

Although, to be fair, I did once write that the BMW Z3 was definitely a car popular with the gay community, particularly when it was painted in Estee Lauder eyeshadow colours.

Since I had destroyed all of my oeuvre before moving to the Cape (and later regretted it) I rather appreciated Dario Milo and his team going to all the trouble of curating it once again and presenting it in such handsome folders.

But all this unasked for kindness came at a price and I had to stump up a few grand for the privilege. Churning out huge amounts of unnecessary paper is something the legal profession is incredibly good at but it all comes at a heavy price.

Take the case of the suspended Public Protector Busiswe Mkhwebane and her impeachment inquiry for example which has been running for longer than the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. It is estimated that this little charade has run up legal bills of at least R15 million, none of which I suspect has come out of Mkhwebane’s pocket.

But Mkhwebane has never been shy about spending taxpayers money and, according to advocate Nazreen Bawa, since 2017 has blown around R158 million on consulting and professional fees of which R147 million was splurged on legal fees alone. It’s not difficult to see who benefits from vexatious litigation and court delays and that is the very people who are supposed to be upholding and enforcing the law.

Last week, that paragon of legal probity Dali Mpofu SC withdrew as Mkhwebane’s legal counsel which is just another ploy designed to derail the entire impeachment inquiry.

He mysteriously referred to the “illegal activities of the committee” which suggests that he’s either afraid he won’t get paid or that he’s run out of tall stories to tell the committee.

Anyway, this leaves Mkhwebane high and dry and looking for a new legal team some 19 months into the inquiry. Or does it? My legal friends tell me this has been well orchestrated and that Mkhwebane’s contract runs out at year end.

If she hasn’t been impeached then she is entitled to all the retirement benefits which would have accrued to her had she still been in office. What’s all that talk about nobody being above the law and that justice must be seen to be done. Or are those just quaint legal sayings?

Of course, Mkhwebane is just one of many who come to court on a regular basis only to have their cases delayed over and over again. Jacob Zuma is an obvious example but there are many more within the ANC hierarchy who never seem to reach a trial date thanks to the ability to delay cases indefinitely courtesy of what appears to us non legally qualified South Africans to be a cosy arrangement with the judicial system.

The fact that many of these very serious criminal cases involving senior political figures never reach a denouement hardly inspires confidence in the legal system, particularly when the evidence against them would appear to be overwhelming.

Bail is often set at ludicrously low levels too. News24 reported that Matshela Koko and his family blew R38 million in Eskom kickbacks on foreign holidays and property purchases and yet he’s out on R300 000 bail; small change that he probably keeps in a coffee jar on the kitchen shelf. The obvious question has to be asked… why is somebody who has allegedly committed a petty crime arrested and held in custody until a court appearance while somebody guilty of a monumental crime is set free? Because we have a ludicrously manipulable legal system is probably as good a reason as any.

When many of our superstar corrupt politicians do attend a hearing, which will almost certainly be postponed yet again, they are normally accompanied by a large mob of singing and dancing supporters who clearly don’t think there’s anything wrong with their leaders becoming fabulously wealthy while they continue to live in shacks with no electricity and water.

These supporters are also not great fans of the legal system which they see as a dreadful legacy of colonial days. The purpose of their presence outside a court is twofold. Firstly, it is to show support for the accused irrespective of any evidence of guilt.

Secondly, and more important, it is to intimidate the judge and help him reach the ‘correct’ finding. This might be a continual postponement or it might be an absurd not guilty finding as we’ve seen in the Julius Malema cases.

Now that the EFF leadership have publicly come out in favour of killing anybody who gets in the way of their revolutionary ambitions it would be a brave judge or magistrate indeed who would risk their and their family’s lives by finding Mr Malema and his senior party members guilty of anything. And as for that unfortunate VBS business, why not allow the Monopoly Community Chest card to be your judicial inspiration? “Bank Error in your Favour… collect millions”.


I was approached the other day at a busy traffic intersection by a man selling the Big Issue, cover price R25. I would happily have bought one from him but for two reasons. I was halfway across the intersection turning right and the lights were about to change and I didn’t have R25 in cash on me anyway. I quickly wound the window down before the guy behind started hooting and asked if he had a credit card machine. He didn’t so that was that.

That may sound like a callous question but as we move towards an increasingly cashless society it’s probably quite relevant. People who rely on cash hand-outs or on selling stuff at traffic lights are going to find life tough if they don’t adapt.

Already my local supermarket insists on card only payment at the till unless you are prepared to queue at the cash till with people buying one loaf of bread and a litre of Coke. The only reason I draw cash at the ATM these days is to pay the domestic worker and to have something to hand over to the guys who pretend to guard my car when I park. I occasionally use the blue notes to buy something more expensive but only because I want change in the smaller denomination notes.

In the UK and Europe banks have all but disappeared from the High Street and ATM’s are also being removed. Which magazine reported that a quarter of ATM’s have disappeared since 2018 which makes it all but impossible for many people to access cash. This is fine if everything works and the digital age doesn’t let us down but all it needs is a severed fibre optic cable on the sea bed or a grid failure and the whole system collapses.

I only resorted to online banking when SARS refused to take cheques a couple of years ago and I’m still not totally comfortable with it, particularly when people assure me it’s foolproof.

While tapping my credit card on a machine without the need to enter a PIN code certainly speeds things up at the till I live in perpetual fear of losing my wallet and getting a string of deduction SMS’s on my iPhone. Of course, if I lose my iPhone too I’m doubly stuffed because I won’t have a clue what is going on.

I’m reliably informed that credit cards will also go the way of bank branches and ATM’s in time and that, before long, financial transactions will be conducted via a smart phone as they are already in China. With any luck South Africa will still be suffering from rolling blackouts and will be unable to participate in this brave and controlling new world.