Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction in South Africa's Courtrooms

Cape Times (South Africa), November 16, 2011 | Go to article overview

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction in South Africa's Courtrooms


Courtroom dramas are a bit like science fiction or romance. There are cult followers who follow the increasingly (to me, a prosaic crime writer rooted in science, motive and evidence) weird narrative twists that take place.

John Grisham is the undisputed king of the fictional courtroom drama and his books capture the socially agreed voodoo that is necessary for a justice system to work: the rigmarole of the robes, the standing and rising for judges, the wood panelling, the gavel, the hand on the Bible stuff, the swearing to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth - as if that were remotely possible. All this ritual makes us believe the justice system is rational and fair and real in fiction.

Reality is altogether another matter and, seeing as I am not writing a book at the moment, it has diverted me from the plausible world of fictional justice. The cases currently before bemused-looking judges in South Africa belong more to the world of Stephen King than jurisprudence. For example, there's the case of the High Court judge murdered in his luxury apartment Cape Town. His hell-hath-no-fury wife is on trial for his slaying alongside a young man who seems to have confused the roles of toyboy/handyman with hitman. The presiding judge is looking nervy. My advice to him would be that he buys his own wife flowers on the way home.

There's also been the unseemly spectacle of the ANC old league "disciplining" the head of the youth league, that irredeemably tasteless dresser Julius Malema. He is now out on a populist limb, but like that other badly dressed, pompous, language-mangler Arnold Schwarzenegger, I have this feeling that "he'll be back".

But it is a Durban case that has had me riveted. The Lotter case involves matricide, patricide, cults and tokoloshes. It is unfolding with the kind of prosaic weirdness that must make the judge wonder if he has heard right.

The Lotter siblings, Hardus and his angelic-looking sister Nicolette, have admitted to the gruesome killing of their parents. Their dispute is that it was murder. They claim the killings were done was under the hypnotic influence of one Mathew Naidoo, the self-proclaimed "third son of god".

This is one of the aspects of the case that has perplexed me.

If Jesus was the first son of God and Mathew from Pineview is the third, then who is the second? …

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