Wrongful convictions are an uncomfortable fact of life, which in South Africa remains mostly unacknowledged, usually ignored and often denied. The establishment of a South African version of the US National Registry of Exonerations could well be an important step in the right direction.
Authors - Carolyn Raphaely
Senior Journalist Carolyn Raphaely goes in depth about her work at the WJP on Classic Fm with Richard Cock, and gives us a taste of her favourite songs.
None of the exonerees who journeyed to Memphis from all over the US traveled light. With an astonishing 3,501 years behind bars clocked up between them for heinous crimes they did not commit – including arson, murder, rape, and robbery – these “innocents” of all ages, stages, colours and creeds carried heavy emotional baggage. The majority also bore an enormous debt of gratitude to Innocence Network lawyers, some of whom had worked for years to secure their release. A former Soshanguve taxi driver, Thembekile Molaudzi, was there.
After spending five years in jail for a crime he always claimed he did not commit Daniel Brilliance Sehloho is supposed to be one of the lucky ones whose wrongful conviction has been overturned. Instead, he believes his problems really started when he was released. By CAROLYN RAPHAELY for Wits Justice Project.
When Dineo Kgatle walked out of Baviaanspoort prison into the purple haze of a hot Tshwane day a year ago, he had two things on his mind: caring for his elderly mother, and suing the State for his wrongful arrest and the traumatic 26 months he had just spent behind bars.
Thanks to the combined efforts of the Wits Justice Project, human rights attorney Egon Oswald, advocate Carol Steinberg and wrongfully convicted co-accused Thembekile Molaudzi, two men have left prison carrying little else besides a heavy burden of betrayal by the criminal justice system.
Anyone who still thinks SA’s prisons are luxury hotels should think again – particularly about the underlying reasons why inmates died, warders were critically injured and cells set alight during rioting at Leeuwkop, Krugersdorp, St Albans and Johannesburg (Sun City) prisons late last year.
Anyone taking the time to mine the turgid annual reports of SA’s bloated bureaucracy will occasionally be rewarded with a gem – a valuable nugget of information which will make the mostly tedious task worthwhile.
"With statistics about official-on-inmate violence currently as clear as mud and the truth hiding in plain sight, only one thing is certain: brutality behind bars appears to be an issue requiring urgent oversight and attention. Meantime, the prison oversight body needs to take a long hard look at its reporting methods which seem to conceal a whole lot more than they reveal."
Clearly the use of force behind bars is highly contentious. In terms of the law, the only permissible force is minimum or necessary force, used to stop or prevent a dangerous situation. Any other force is regarded as gratuitous, excessive and unlawful. Yet prison officials operating in the context of the prevailing culture of violence appear to resort to violence as a default position.