Most of the time justice is only for rich people

Don Makatile

So Mandoza will dole out a few thousand bucks and thereafter get on with his life?

"Aagh, but this is unfair," exclaims prominent attorney Themba Langa before he can gather his thoughts.

It will be a sad day for justice if it reaches the courts, but there's a township legend - and it will not be a cheap boast because it comes from the well-heeled - that goes: "I will not go to jail; my money will (serve time for me).

This Capone-sque view seeks to establish a symbiotic relationship between money and justice.

American football legend OJ Simpson, in case you need reminding, with his money gone and Johnnie Cochran long dead, has just been slapped with a 33-year jail term and we are told he'll only be eligible for parole at the ripe old age of 70.

Judge Jackie Glass even had the temerity to, in a phrase, kick a man when he's down, chiding Simpson thus: "Earlier I didn't know if you were arrogant, ignorant or both - it was both."

All this not for killing his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman (really now, Judge Glass?) but just trying to get back what rightfully belonged to him!

Thirteen years ago, Simpson stayed out of the penitentiary by breaking the bank to pay a high-profile defence team led by the flamboyant Cochran.

Locally, one Simon Mathebula will languish in jail for a stretch longer while his master, the much-maligned Mark Scott-Crossley is out for the Lion Murder killing of Nelson Chisale.

In case you were wondering, it is money, not Scott-Crossley's faith in God that has gained him freedom.

The news that Najwa Petersen had been found guilty of the murder of her husband, arts icon Taliep, must have made for some depressing reading for Mandoza, the kwaito star best known for his anthemic Nkalakatha.

This was until his advocate, Christo Meiring, waved his magic wand in the Roodepoort magistrates court and presto! Mandoza was a free man.

Meiring is the same legal hawk who dumped Mulalo Sivhidzo, citing as his reason the fact that, wait for it, he was not paid!

While Mandoza paid big bucks for Meiring's services, Sivhidzo will have to contend with help from the Legal Aid Board.

But apparently, this cannot be such a terrible thing, according to legal scholar Desia Colgan who teaches law at Wits.

Only the middle-class get the short end of the stick, she says.

"The wealthy can afford to pay the best lawyers while the state provides legal aid for the poor."

In the case that took the kwaito star to court, two people died in the accident he caused after his Chrysler Crossfire rear-ended a VW Jetta in which Felix Thebe and George Tshabalala were travelling. The two men died on the scene of the March 1 collision.

A senior NPA official who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the scales of justice can tip either way between rich and poor. The court's duty is not only to impose prison sentences, but allow for restorative justice as well, she says.

In the Mandoza case, the prosecutor reportedly asked both families what they thought would be the most appropriate sentence for the singer. According to a Sowetan report, the families felt "the court should decide".

But when Mandoza walked, with a "slap on the wrist" that will cost him just under R60000 for the two men's lives, Gloria, Tshabalala's widow, just left the court, clearly not chuffed.

Ironically, Mandoza is a Tshabalala too, given name Mduduzi!

The question, "What could have happened to Mandoza if he did not have the money?" borders on the rhetorical.

Langa, himself a colourful lawman in the Cochran mould, says the Mandoza judgment is highly regrettable.

"It is a travesty of justice. It unfortunately gives the impression that you can buy justice if you're rich and famous."

Given the high fatalities on our roads, there was no semblance of justice: "Mandoza is the lucky one here."

Echoing the sentiments of the NPA official, Langa says it would have served no one's interest for Mandoza to go to jail as justice is not only served by imprisonment "but justice should have been seen to have been done".

Conversely, despite her deep pockets, Najwa found the overwhelming body of evidence against her just too much even for all the money in her family vaults. Her family, the Dirk's are a wealthy bunch. Her brother Waleed has just bought the Petersens' recently-auctioned properties for a staggering R3,5 million.

Somewhere in the strips of evidence that went before presiding Judge Siraj Desai, Najwa was said to have lost R4 million she had given her husband towards a business transaction that went awry.

But with her millions, to turn the Capone thinking on its head, Najwa still sank!

But a large number of those in jail almost invariably blame their incarceration on their pennilessness.

They will perhaps find enough time while behind bars to learn that, in the words of Bob Enyart, "It is not a Justice System. It is just a system."