South Africa

Reporter’s Notebook : Marking time at the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate’s Court

By Mandy De Waal 4 September 2012

Time takes a cigarette and puts it in your mouth at Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate’s Court, where everyone plays the waiting game, as the state shuffles papers to get the Marikana miners to court. But it’s a game that’s played hard and played often in South Africa. In many ways, most of us are waiting. By MANDY DE WAAL.

Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. 

That’s what people do at the Ga-Rankuwa Magistrate’s Court in the North West. At the side of the road, outside the court gates, hawkers wait for journalists to buy Sprite, frozen guava ices or soda bottles filled with water from the nearest tap.

Across the road at the entrance to the court complex, the boys in blue stand under trees waiting for full-bottomed ‘girls’ to come by so that they can leer and make wanton comments. 

Outside courtroom ‘H’, there’s a gaggle of local and international press waiting for the Marikana miners to arrive because they’re big news; it’s a global story and they’re on deadline.

But after entering the court complex, and before you get to the main action, there are small mobile offices that act as maintenance or children’s courts. The women sit or stand in huddles outside of the maintenance mobile office waiting for their case numbers to be called. The men sit pulling at cigarettes far away from the feminine crush, knowing that they’ll be found and hauled into the smallish mobile office once their time has come.

There’s a woman in blue waiting for a copy of her 2002 divorce decree. She’s wading through Lever Arch files of paper, trying to find her name and case file number, while she’s holding on for one of the court clerks to help her. But the clerk’s having tea.

Photo: Ga-Rankuwa magistrate’s court. A woman looks through a mountain of paper work in a shambles of a filing system, trying to get a copy of her divorce decree. (Mandy de Waal/DAILY MAVERICK)

“Can you believe it? I have to do their work and the papers are in such a mess. Nothing is on computer so I must look through all this paper. Years and years of paper. And you mustn’t complain because then you get nothing. You must just do their work and wait while they have tea.”

The clerk breaks from her pause, and seeing a lone pale female with a camera and a recording device, she asks why I’m here. I say I’m a journalist working the Marikana court case. She calls me into the small mobile office and closes the door. “Can you do another story? Not Marikana. There is so much corruption and nepotism here. The papers here are in a mess. We want to tell you the story, but I first must caucus with my colleagues. It has been like this for years. The Justice Department here in Ga-Rankuwa is a mess, but we are scared to talk because we will be victimised. I must even watch out to see that no one witnesses me talking to you, because it is so dangerous.”

I offer my number, saying she can talk to me later off the record. I wait, and then the court clerk pops her head out of the door to see if the coast is clear, and hustles me out. She says she’ll call with the story, but I wait and the call never comes.

There’s a security guard on the way to the court where police, prosecutors, lawyers and the media are waiting for the Marikana miners. The security guard’s waiting too, but he’s biding time hoping for a better job. He studied engineering and has been sending out his CV for years now, but this is the best he can do. All he ever gets are rejections.

Before this, he worked in a mortuary and sewed people up, he says. “Some people die with their arms up,” he states, striking a crucifix pose. “I had to cut their arms off because they were stuck like that. It was the only way we could get their bodies into the coffins.”

At court ‘H’, the international TV crews are waiting, anchors with neatly coiffed hair and stylish day jackets under the first warmth of an African sun. They’ve been here since breakfast. The court opened at nine, and the release of the Marikana miners was due to happen shortly afterward. But it’s not happening fast, so the anchors sweat, while the local journalists in jeans and Ts, and some in shorts, shoot the breeze, smoke fags and drink fizzy drinks. 

Photo: Journalists waiting at Ga-Rankuwa magistrate’s court. (Mandy de Waal/DAILY MAVERICK)

It is about twelve, and the defence lawyers for the miners roll up in luxury vehicles and imported gear. They drift in but won’t speak to anyone until their clients arrive. And so the media wait a little longer.

Earlier I was at the Ga-Rankuwa Forensic Pathology building, where I was waiting, hoping to speak to the manager and get a view of where the remains of the 34 miners who were killed were held. The dead miners were initially taken to Phokeng Mortuary in Rustenburg, but the workers here say the post mortems were done at this facility.

In the reception room, a family is huddled in grief while they sit on the brushed steel chairs. They are waiting for their daughter to identify her child, who drowned. There’s a terrible wail from the door leading off towards the right, where the mortuary is – the cry of the young mother’s grief. The small dead body is indeed her child. She is brought back to the reception area weeping, where her family is waiting for her, crying softly.

I leave the reception to go and see the manager, Mr Motola, who was about to have bread and tea. But now that’s going to have to wait, because this journalist pitched up uninvited and wants to see where the Marikana autopsies were done.

Photo: The forensic pathology service in Ga-Rankuwa where the Autopsies on the 34 dead miners were done. (Mandy de Waal/DAILY MAVERICK)

Motola defers to a Mr Mahlangu, who is his boss, and has just finished tea. (The ‘tell’ is the rumpled plastic from what was once a bag that covered white bread, and some crumbs.) Mahlangu defers to Jaco Louw, who offers a firm ‘no’. The facility is being refurbished, he says, and therefore can’t be viewed by journalists. My persistence sees him defer to his superior, who defers to another superior – the HOD – who requires a written application and then only will begin to consider a tour of the facility. I ask myself if that’s worth waiting for when the miners’ presence in court could be imminent. On the other hand, it could take a while.

Back at the courts, the journalists are still waiting. The hearing was due to start at one, but is now unlikely to start at two. Then it is getting closer to three. A Department of Justice worker steps outside to move her car because it is nearing four and she doesn’t want to be parked in when the prisoners arrive in big police vans. 

Down the way, some boys in blue sit outside the court on a rock. Marikana? I ask. What? they respond. Are you waiting for the Marikana miners to arrive? I ask. No, they say. We are waiting for tjaila (home time) at 4.30.

And so we wait. Like the patients in hospital waiting rooms. Like the commuters hoping that the Metrorail isn’t late again. Like the Zimbabweans outside Home Affairs offices wanting to get in and get legit. Like the school leavers of 2011 still seeking jobs, or those pupils who never got textbooks.

Like most people in South Africa, holding onto the dream of a better life, we wait. And we wait. And we wait. DM

Read more:

  • Marikana: NPA drops ‘common purpose’ charges, but critical questions remain on Daily Maverick
  • The Marikana miners have rights too by Sipho Hlongwane at Daily Maverick

Main photo: Journalists could only watch the miners on TV, in a court room next to the one where the action was going down. (Mandy de Waal/DAILY MAVERICK)


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