Court now taking place in kitchen

Court officials holding proceedings in a kitchen of the Nkomazi magistrate's court. / Mandla Khoza
Court officials holding proceedings in a kitchen of the Nkomazi magistrate's court. / Mandla Khoza

A broken air conditioner and unbearable heat at the Tonga magistrate's courtroom forced proceedings to be moved into the building's kitchen.

The circumstances forced several cases scheduled to be heard by the Mpumalanga court including that of a rape, attempted murder and assault to be postponed, living lawyers of the accused livid.

The lawyers said their clients were not getting a fair trial as bail proceedings were abandoned for the past two weeks because they cannot be recorded in the kitchen.

According to court officials who spoke to Sowetan on condition of anonymity, air conditioners in the two courtrooms had not been working for a while. But, on Tuesday when temperatures reached a peak inside, prosecutors and presiding officers decided to move proceedings to the kitchen which had some ventilation.

This, they said, was also to avoid further postponements of cases which had not been heard for the past two weeks as a result of the problem.

"Yes, we are holding proceedings here [the kitchen]. We have no choice because that building is very hot. It is also not safe for us, so we arranged with legal representatives of suspects to come to the kitchen each day," said one official.

He said temperatures had soared to over 36C on the day. The courtroom can accommodate around 200 people.

"You see this building at 36 degrees now but it's empty. What about when there are people inside?" asked another court officials. A state prosecutor, who didn't want to be named, said they only go to the kitchen to postpone cases.

Sfiso Mabilane, a lawyer who attended the court to represent his client, told Sowetan the department of justice was not taking the rights of offenders seriously.

"This is wrong from the department; our clients' rights are being abused because they have been in custody for weeks without trial because proceedings can't be recorded in the kitchen," he said. "We are not taking this kindly; we demand justice for our clients before it's too late. We can't have postponements all the time."

Department's spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga said he was not aware of the problem but would refer it to the director of courts.

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