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BORN A TRAVELLING MAN IS NOT AVAILABLE AT PRESENT.
 
SOME OF THE EXTRACTS MAY STILL BE OF INTEREST.
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WANT TO KNOW MORE ABOUT BORN A TRAVELLING MAN?

 

Working in the Department of Justice for thirty years gave me the opportunity to gain invaluable experience and knowledge not only of various and often remote places in South Africa and the law but of the people who live and work there. Working in the courts of law at these places presented its own particular brand of challenges. Like life itself, there were more serious and solemn moments but these were often counter-acted by lighter and sometimes very humorous events. I served at various places as an administrative assistant, prosecutor, senior prosecutor, magistrate and regional magistrate. These places included Goodwood, Somerset East, Hermanus, Graaff-Reinet, Aberdeen, Welkom, Dordrecht, Vereeniging and Paarl.  See Places of Interest.

 

   

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Here are some extracts that illustrate the lighter and darker sides of my experiences:

For more humorous extracts go to Court Humour.

‘Courts often experience first-hand accounts of the extremes that people employ to protect their property against theft or other crimes. There are reported cases of these extremes getting people into trouble because they have caused harm or even death to others. This does not seem to prevent victims from devising methods to protect their precious goods or even their lives.

In every instance where a plan is devised there is always a thief or other type of criminal hard at work in attempting to devise a method to counter the protective remedy. In this way, both sides of the law remain productive and creative.

The inhabitants of Dordrecht, although to a lesser extent than some of the larger towns and cities, were also the targets of thieves from time to time.

In a case involving housebreaking and theft, the evidence revealed that a farmer who enjoyed and collected good wines and especially fortified wines employed extreme measures to protect his expensive collection due to frequent theft. He had tried every conventional method in the book to prevent theft without success.

Faced with a dilemma and in a state of desperation, he sat down and devised a plan, which he believed was the solution to his problem. He built a separate storeroom for the wines and placed them in the centre of the storeroom. He then surrounded the goods with steel traps that he had acquired.

From the description of these traps, I could only imagine that they resembled those that are used to trap large animals such as bears in parts of America. The traps had a very powerful spring mechanism which when activated caused large and sharp steel jaws to close around the object that activated it. A human leg would clearly be severed when the steel jaws closed around it. These were clearly terrifying pieces of mechanical apparatus.

The accused had gained entry to the storeroom without any problems. To do so he employed the normal techniques for breaking and entering. Once inside he was however confronted by a mass of deadly traps preventing him from reaching the wine.

The evidence revealed that the accused was arrested after he was discovered sitting on a case of wine in the centre of the storeroom. In court, the accused explained that after evaluating the situation and his options, it took a great deal of finesse to negotiate his way over and through the maze of threatening traps. It took him a few hours to achieve this and at times, it was “touch and go." He explained that he was perspiring profusely during the expedition and that all his senses were heightened by the impending danger surrounding him. I remember asking the accused whether this whole ordeal was worth it, but he insisted that at the time he most certainly thought that it was.

His perseverance however paid off and he eventually reached his goal in the middle of the storeroom. There he found the “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow, following a treacherous journey.

After his arduous journey through the traps, he had built up an extra thirst and he quickly savoured some of the delicious wine. After some time he had consumed much more than was necessary to quench his thirst, because as he explained and quite understandably so, he also had to calm his frayed nerves.

Collecting a bottle or two to take home, he decided that it was time to leave, but there was only one problem. Viewing the traps from the centre of the room, he wisely realised that although he was feeling great and completely relaxed after consuming the wine, he was far too intoxicated to negotiate his path through the traps. Submitting to his fate, he sat down, popped open another bottle and waited until he was discovered.

Besides the confirmation that crime does not pay there is another lesson to learn from this scenario, I thought. When undertaking a difficult journey do not only prepare for the forward trip, but prepare for the return trip as well.’

 

‘Regional Courts try over 90% of all the serious crime in this country. The crime of rape appears to be one of the most prevalent.

It is often difficult to comprehend what motivates a person to violate the person of another in this manner. It goes to the very heart of man’s sinful nature and the fact that he is capable of showing utter contempt towards his own kind often without blinking. It would be understandable to a certain extent although not justifiable if the motivation could be found in some form of sexual perversion. All indications seem to suggest however that the motivation is not sexual but has to do with power and violence.

I have experienced the trauma of rape many times whilst presiding over numerous rape cases involving victims of all ages, differing backgrounds and circumstances.

As a crime against women and girls, it proved to have no natural barriers and no exceptions. It had no natural habitat and the profile of the perpetrators differed from case to case. The scenarios in which the crime is committed range from a date-rape situation to a gang-related rape.’

 

 


 

 


 

 

THE CHICKEN WHO BECAME INVOLVED WITH THE LAW

 

 

 

An extract from 'Born a Travelling Man'

 

Fowl Play

Although most of the cases I heard in the criminal court were of a routine nature, there were a number, which proved to be very interesting and stimulating.

One of the cases emanated from a reasonably simple matter involved the theft of a rooster. The rooster was however no ordinary member of the poultry society and was called “Mannetjies.”

The accused was charged with the theft of a rooster from the complainant. The accused did not want legal representation and elected to conduct her own defence. She pleaded not guilty and denied the theft of the complainant’s rooster. Unfortunately, for the accused, there was direct evidence in which an eyewitness saw the accused sneaking off with the rooster under her arm to her house.

 At some stage during the trial, a dispute arose concerning the identity of the bird, with the accused describing the bird as being a white rooster, which belonged to her and the complainant insisting that the bird was red, and belonged to her. The evidence revealed that the bird had been returned to the complainant after the complaint had been made and the police had completed the investigation. The police had confiscated the bird from the accused.

The complainant’s further testimony concerning the bird however added the final twist to the “feathery” tale. She explained that the rooster in question had been reared by her from an egg as a house pet and responded to the name she had given him namely “Mannetjies.” This was vehemently denied by the accused who insisted that this was nonsense.

At an early stage in my judicial career, I had always held the view that if it was possible to exclude disputes by means of observation or the consideration of relevant exhibits or by demonstration to the court then that was the way to go.

Deciding that it was appropriate in these circumstances to do so, I ordered that an inspection in loco be held at the complainant’s house so that the feathered celebrity could be observed.

At the designated time the prosecutor, complainant, accused, a contingent of police officials and I, gathered at the house of the complainant. We were not surprised to find that the news had spread quickly that the court was shifting to the particular area and that the local magistrate was on site to observe a chicken in action.

A large crowd gathered around the modest residence of the complainant with its dilapidated wooden fence and gate situated on a dusty gravel road to view what was generally considered exciting entertainment in Aberdeen. At this stage, the chief character in the whole saga was nowhere to be seen.

 In the presence of all the relevant parties and the crowd who were amazingly quiet and absorbed by the process, the complainant uttered the magical words in a high-pitched voice. “Mannetjies! Mannetjies!" she cried.

 There was complete silence followed by the distinct sound of some type of creature approaching swiftly from the back of the complainant’s residence.

Within seconds, a somewhat bedraggled but very red rooster made its appearance at the side of the house and ignoring the very amused bystanders proceeded to a spot situated directly in front of the complainant. He started to peck at the ground as a clear indication that he wanted some food.

When the complainant moved away, he followed without hesitation. “This” the complainant exclaimed, “is Mannetjies.”

 After hearing all the evidence in the matter, I convicted the accused and postponed the matter for sentence. The legal position in South African law as it existed at that time and of which I was well aware, was that the actions of animals were unreliable and that the court could not make inferences based on these actions. There was however, authority for the fact that the court could make a finding concerning the identity of animals based on their actions and reactions.

 In a similar case involving the identity of sheep, a number of sheep had been stolen and were later found in a large flock not only consisting of stolen sheep. In order to identify the particular sheep stolen from the relevant farmer, evidence that he knew them by name and that they responded to these names and left the flock when he called them was accepted as proof of their identity. It was this principle that I applied to “Mannetjies.”

 Because the case had been such a big event in the sleepy town of Aberdeen, the local and regional press soon decided that it was newsworthy and published articles on the case involving the unique bird. The articles were published with bold headings such as “Almost fowl play over Mannetjies the Red Rooster” and as a result attracted the attention of all and sundry.

True to some of the media’s reporting of court cases, the details in one newspaper suggested incorrectly that I had convicted the complainant based solely on the actions of a chicken.

On the day of sentence, a well-known advocate from Port Elizabeth arrived at court to defend the rights of the accused who according to the press had been convicted on the testimony of a bird. He was surprised to note after a reading of the record that this was not the case. He however appeared on behalf of the accused during the sentence proceedings.

Meanwhile “Mannetjies” continued doing what chickens usually do, quite oblivious to the fact that he had made legal history in the town of Aberdeen.

 

 

 

 

On a lighter note, what follows is an extract from ‘Born a Travelling Man’ that illustrates the fact that alcohol does not only affect the way we drive but the way we walk as well.

 

Under the influence

‘I initially served as a magistrate in the "Traffic" court and tried a vast number of “drunken driving” matters. The benefit of serving in such a high volume court specialising in certain types of matters is that one becomes an expert on the subject matter and all the related issues.

The "drunken driving" matter, which stands out in my memory, was the matter of an accused that clearly had a serious drinking and driving problem. The problems that some people experience with excessive drinking and addiction to alcohol are well documented. A great deal of the country’s resources is consumed by those who fail to adhere to the rules of the road. The combination of these problems is however a deadly concoction which causes many fatalities and injuries on our roads.

The matter was scheduled to appear in my court in the afternoon session, which proved in hindsight to be an unwise decision from the accused’s perspective.

I was standing during lunchtime in the foyer outside the courtrooms when I noticed through the large glass panels of the building, a vehicle enter the parking area. It took some time for the driver, a male in his thirties, to alight from the vehicle. When he eventually did, it was clear that not all was normal because he stood at the driver’s door and swayed from side to side before attempting to walk past the front of the vehicle to the entrance of the court building. He was not very successful because he clearly misjudged the length of the vehicle every time and could not find his way past the vehicle’s bonnet. He was clearly heavily under the influence. It was the accused in the "drunken driving" matter arriving for his court appearance.

 After failing in his attempt to walk around the vehicle several times, it seemed that despite his condition he had had a stroke of genius. After taking a few steps forward, he placed his nose cautiously on the bonnet of the vehicle and manoeuvred his body in a shuffling motion around the side to the front of the vehicle. Once clear of the ridiculous object blocking his progress, he was free to make his way into the building to the courtroom.

 Once he had entered the building, it would have been a simple task to walk a few metres down the foyer to his destination. In his present state however, this proved to be a mammoth task because he constantly found himself heading off in the wrong direction despite the reasonably straight course he had set for himself. Applying the principles employed by mariners to counteract the effects of prevailing winds he adjusted his course a few times and eventually reached the courtroom. Having just witnessed this spectacle, I proceeded to my chambers to prepare for the afternoon court session.

In court, I informed the accused that due to his obvious condition the matter could not proceed and postponed the matter until the following day to allow him to sober up. The accused was remanded in custody. Realising that he was not at his best, there was no objection from the accused.

The courtrooms at the Welkom courts were notorious for their steep stairs leading down to the holding cells situated in the basement. They are situated immediately behind the accused. If one stands at the top of the stairs looking down, one can generally only see a large rectangular black hole.

Before the accused could be ushered away by the court orderly after the postponement, he turned around and disappeared down the hole leading to the cells. We heard the sound of an object rolling down the long and steep flight of stairs and the sickening thud as it came to an abrupt standstill at the bottom.

In my mind in those few seconds after the event, I conjured up all sorts of images of the accused having fallen to his death on the way to the holding cells including the newspaper headlines on the event and the subsequent inquest.

In a flash however and before the court orderly could go and investigate the accused with more vigour than he had shown previously popped out of the black hole and remarked, "Shhow the matter is posshponed to tomorrow?” Relieved to see the accused in one piece, I confirmed this. This time he left with the court orderly firmly escorting him to the cells below.

On the following day when the accused appeared, he was very sober and very embarrassed about his condition on the previous day.

 I was just relieved that he was alive and as well, as he could be under the circumstances.’


 

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