by Pierre Le Roux
One of the most anticipated and controversial trials in South Africa got underway this week and I just happen to be part of it. The trial involves an alleged international Mafia Boss and convicted Drug Dealer as the star witness and the once most powerful man in law enforcement as the accused. Throw International Espionage, Spy Bosses, Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering, Murder and Blackmail into the mix and you have the perfect recipe for a soap opera. Being involved in the trail I may not divulge any details as pertaining to the actual case but I will take you behind the scenes and share with you the experiences that no one ever get to read or know about. Here is your brief introduction.
Being part of a court case of this magnitude has both its advantages and disadvantages. On the one side I literally have a front row seat and inside scoop to what I can only describe as the best “reality show” but on the other side I have to sacrifice my privacy and normal routine. This past week it felt like my life has been turned upside down, my sleeping patterns grossly interrupted and my public anonymity obliterated. The experience sometimes feels surreal, sometimes scary and sometimes exciting.
My day starts at 4:15am as I am awakened by the irritating sounds of chirping birds. Not being a morning person their sounds mock me as I am forced to awaken from my peaceful sleep. As I prepare for the frenzy that lies ahead, the darkness of night slowly is ushered away by the morning sun. I am picked up by a black Jeep with tinted windows at around 5:30am with four of my colleagues. We are then rushed, with what at times is lethal speed, to the offices next to the High Court. As the Jeep forcefully strings its way through pre-peek-time morning traffic most of us try to catch up on 45 minutes sleep that it takes to reach our destination. Once at the office we have a quick breakfast before our pre-trail meeting then collect our documents and equipment and 30 minutes before the trail start prepare to depart for court.
Preparations for the short walk to court across the road are no easy feat. You see this week we escorted the star witness to court and apart from the media being interested in catching him on film there is also the added complication of his safety. Getting from our temporary offices to the court building is timed and planned with military precision. The security detail (a staff of about 15 people) deploy to their positions 10 minutes prior to departure. As we assemble in the foyer of the office building we wait for the “all clear”. When the go ahead is given we all emerge from the building and a security perimeter surrounds us. As we exit the clicking of cameras start and we struggle our way through the sea of journalist. This has been a frighting experience as once this week a journalist broke the security perimeter causing chaos and the journalist and his camera was injured in the process.
As a result of the media interest in the case I made it onto the news 3 times this week, been on the front page of 4 news papers and appeared in pictures with the star witness in one news paper everyday. This unexpected exposure has had some adverse effects: Firstly some family members and friends called me and was surprised to see me on the news, in public I have gotten some weird stares and twice I have been approached by strangers wanting to know who I was and what my involvement is in the case. Having been told that I look like I am a “mafia type” on the news and newspapers I can only assume this inference is made due to my association with the star witness. Also having been told I look like the witness’ bodyguard, all I could do was laugh.
Once in court we set up our work stations as the press slowly trickles in. Having got to know some of them during the course of this week I must say most of them are very pleasant except one. There is an old lady that is not only abrasive and bombastic but also a major bitch. Having had her banned from our row of seats due to her disturbing nature she through a mammoth tantrum and threaten to sue. Her antics did not yield the results she had hoped and her hateful stares burn our backs everyday; I am sure at night she has constructed a hate shrine with the newspaper pictures of us and burns her black candles while guzzling down her cheep whiskey.
As the defense and the accused enters the court room the atmosphere changes. Everyone looks with keen interest to see how the accused and the star witness will interact. As expected there is no eye contact and neither acknowledges the other’s existence. Only once this week the two made eye contact and it was followed by the witness braking down in tears. Whether that was an Oscar winning performance by the witness no one knows. Presiding over this case is a judge that is firm and does not take well to any dramatics, having a queer sense of humor he does allows the odd lifting of tension with a quip that seldom hits home with the majority of the audience. As testimony starts startling allegations are made, conspiracies claimed, murder and blackmail revealed. The dance between the prosecution and defense is complicated and at times tense; both parties verbally sparring and every now-and-again giving the other a painful blow.
As proceedings wind down and the court adjourns at 3:30pm we again have to make our way through the army of photographers and interested members of the public. I have grown to dread this long walk through hell and chaos. On Wednesday we had a drunken man screaming profanities at us and just as he appeared to want to attack one of us he was neutralized. Once safely back in the building we all have a sigh of relieve having made it back unharmed. The rest of the afternoon is spent preparing for the next day as a postmortem of the day’s events are done. This usually takes a few hours. If we are lucky at about 5:00pm we leave for home and fight through peek hour traffic. Our black Jeep, I am sure, has now become a notorious item on the road as our driver is aggressive and his driving at times frightening. On our journey home we listen to the media’s analysis of the case on the radio and are informed of how they think we are doing.
At around 6:30pm I arrive home exhausted, too tired to think about doing anything else apart from vegetating in front of the television where again I am reminded of my day as images of the day’s events and sometimes image of me flashes across the screen. At 10:30pm I go to bed, only to awaken again at 4:15am to repeat the process.
This case is set to continue for the next 5 weeks. Our star witness will be finishing his testimony hopefully next week, when after the real heavy weights will be introduced: Ex spy bosses, the notorious security expert, the millionaire ex fugitive, the police high brass and maybe even the accused will take the stand. We are in for an exciting time as many more controversial revelations will be made and numerous bombs shells are sure to be dropped. More about this to follow…