The law

Reading made me think about my own case a bit. A year ago there was a court case against me, I was found innocent, but there are always three sides. My side, the other side and the truth, that is somewhere in the middle. I would like to believe that the truth was all on my side of course, but what I saw there (and other cases while I waited for mine) was more of a game between the lawyers of who could win, never mind the truth. Oh, and I had to pay. If I used one of the legal aid lawyers, he probably would have advised me (like he did with every other case while I was there) to plead guilty and hope for a lenient sentence.
I paid for my own defence, who charged me for his time on all those days (6 in total) that we sat there only to hear that the case was getting postponed. Fair? He sat there on my behalf but while we sat there waiting, he worked on his laptop and would often go out to talk on his phone, all of that had nothing to do with my case. His fees came to R16, 000 so I suppose I came of light, compared to the amounts mentioned in the article. I also had other cost like driving to the town (400 km) and back. I also could not work on those days and in my case it is “no work, no pay”. In the end I was happy to pay it because I won, but if I did not? The “payment for win only” sounds like a better option.
One way of saving money would be to be more efficient. He charged me from 9am till the case was postponed, but the court would only start at about 10:15, one time at 10:25. It would stop at 11 for “tea” and would only start an hour later. Afternoon sessions were also always late, but I was still billed for it.

I am convinced that what keeps most people more or less on the straight and narrow, is not so much the fear of the punishment as the fear of the legal process.


Was it a criminal case or a civil case? In civil cases, it is not unheard of to win a case “with costs,” i.e. the loser has to pay the winner’s legal costs.

Now it seems to me that it might be a good idea to have a system where, if the state loses a criminal case, it is held responsible for the defense’s legal costs. Perhaps that way we’ll see fewer cases of malicious and/or frivolous prosecution.

No in this country it will mean more case files disappear!

Criminal. There was a settlement offer. This came after the third postponement. If I admitted guilt they would stop the case, but as my lawyer pointed out that would open the door for a civil case that would have been difficult to win, as I already admitted guilt.

I’m guessing then our legal system does not allow a clause barring further legal action for the same crime?


Me confused. ???


You’re thinking of double jeopardy where a person cannot be tried twice for the same offence. However, a defendant who is convicted on or acquitted of criminal charges is not thereby immune from civil prosecution by an aggrieved party. For example, if you kill someone while driving drunk, the state will have you for murder or manslaughter; the victim’s family can then bring charges of loss of support against you if the victim was the breadwinner. The civil case often makes extensive use of the findings of the criminal case (which always takes precedence) but the important point here is that the two cases are not trials about the same thing. After all, the criminal case already established your guilt or innocence, and the civil court must take that ruling into account. South African law abides strictly by the double jeopardy principle.

It sounds to me like the prosecutor approached Tweefo with an offer that said if he pleaded guilty, he would not have to go through a lengthy trial and get a light (probably suspended) sentence (plus a criminal record). Tweefo turned the offer down and went to trial. (I’m glad you were acquitted, Tweefo.)


Oh I see - the possibility of plea bargaining.

Not really no. I’m asking if the plaintiff can sign away their opportunity of a civil case during the settlement.

Well, in this case the proposed settlement would have been between the state (as plaintiff) and Tweefo, so if the settlement had been accepted, the double jeopardy provision (it’s in our Constitution) would automatically preclude the state from bringing the same charges a second time because the settlement would have to be ratified by a magistrate or judge, and so would still be a trial, albeit a short one. Remember also that all criminal matters are brought to court by the state, not the person who originally laid the charges with the police. In fact, it’s this protocol that distinguishes criminal from civil actions.

In a civil case where the parties agree to settle, the agreement takes the form of a notarised contract that also sets out the rights, limits and duties of the parties with respect to that settlement. A clause prohibiting the plaintiff from taking further legal action against the defendant on the same matter is standard in such agreements. Without it, the plaintiff could conceivably bring the charges again but it is very doubtful they will succeed in view of the existing agreement. A court is likely to dismiss such an application with costs (and possibly damages, too) as being frivolous if not vexatious.


Do we not have private prosecutions in this ridiculous country? If the state is too lazy, or incompetent, or has been corrupted (heaven forbid!) to bring the prosecution, may we not approach the court and bring a criminal prosecution privately?

To the best of my knowledge, that function is reserved exclusively for the relevant state authorities. There may be exceptional circumstances in which such is not the case and private criminal prosecution is possible but I’m not aware of any. I’ll check up and report back on the question.


Yes, this is exactly what happened. They wear you down first with all the postponements, but I was pretty sure of my case.

Good show Tweefo. (Pays to wear gloves, doesn’t it? :stuck_out_tongue: ;))


This is what happened. I did an astronomy show with the mobile planetarium at a school in Limpopo. I always insist that at least one teacher accompany the kids but in this case she left after about 5 minutes. (How she could leave her class with a stranger I don’t know) Normally, after the show, the teacher goes out first to keep an eye on them as they come out of the dome. They leave the dome through a tunnel,and a few thought it a good idea to, once they were outside, to block the tunnel and to hit the ones that were still inside the tunnel. I heard the commotion and shouted for them to stop but of course they just carried on. The dome has got no floor, so I just picked it up and went out. If the tunnel was in the 12 o’clock position, I went out at 3 o’clock. The 5 or 6 culprits had their backs turned to me so they never saw me coming. They were also on their knees pinning the ones still inside the tunnel down. The idea was to pull them off the tunnel. Unfortunately, being brain damaged my balance is not so good and I stumbled and fell forward onto them. Instinct is to try and break you fall with your hand, and of course I hit a boy with the side of my hand behind his ear. Long story short, I ended up with a charge of assault on a minor. Now I have learned and I tip the dome over their heads after every show and inflate it again for the next show, sometimes 7 times a day. I also really insist that that a teacher accompanies us at all time.

Alas, what happened to you is only the tip of the iceberg - I know because I’m a school teacher by profession. No doubt fate’s punishment for my own contempt of teachers in my youth. :slight_smile:

It’s a funny thing: I grew up during the old days when schools still had a rather draconian system of military-style discipline, and of course I hated it. Nowadays I am increasingly of the opinion that especially with boys, there is really no other way. If you don’t control them absolutely ruthlessly, they run wild. This is not in their own interest, because life itself requires us to often act in a disciplined and orderly manner. What’s more, a significant number of injuries at school happen because of undisciplined behaviour.

Alas! In South African schools discipline has effectively been abolished, even at the private school where I work. The kids do as they please, and considering that most of them are not disciplined at home either, you can imagine the results. If anything at all goes wrong, it’s automatically the teacher’s fault. Or in your case, the handy evil astronomer scapegoat guy.

We are raising an entire generation of young, illiterate criminals. At the school where I work we have now had a large number of serious and indeed even potentially deadly injuries because of kids not behaving. In a recent case, a boy pushed another boy through a large glass window, and it was only through the personal intervention of Jesus that the victim required only a stitch or two as opposed to having had his throat cut and bleeding to death. The perpetrator was suspended, only to be back at school the next morning; the teacher who was closest to the incident almost got fired. As she would have been had she made any attempts to discipline the kids in the first place.

Result of all this: the few kids who very much want to learn get robbed of the opportunity to do so, and people like you who are doing the entire country a favour with your inspiring shows end up considering other ways of making a living.

As I get older, I become ever more of a Randian/Laveyan/social Darwinist satanist type…

Boys will be boys. It probably started out as just a little harmless prank that got worse as more joined in. No, I hold the teacher responsible for leaving her charges in my hands and then the school principal for putting all the blame on me.

Yes, indeed. The problem isn’t with the kids, because they are kids. But the adults in their lives are failing them by not disciplining them.

Anyway, at least you now know which school to avoid in future. Also warn everyone against them. Though I suppose you’d risk lawsuits if you made the school’s name public…

You learn something new every day. Private prosecutions are possible in South Africa — but they are expensive and tend to fail, which is why they are rare.