The postponement of cases in the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court due to court officials being on leave has put some teenage suspects at risk of missing the start of the school year, which began today. Only two of the four court rooms at the Khayelitsha Magistrate’s Court were operating last week (from 12 to 16.01.2009), Senior Public Prosecutor Heinrich Solomons confirmed.
He said this was due to some magistrates and prosecutors taking leave, but denied that this would lead to a backlog in cases, claiming that the court roll had been booked “accordingly”.
Magistrates Robert Matshikwe and Gaynor De Wee, whom preside over the two court rooms that are closed, which both deal mainly with rape, murder and robbery cases, have both been on leave and are due back at this week, sources at the court said.
Normally each of the courts listen to about 20 cases a day.
On Tuesday last week, one of the operating court rooms, Court C, heard and postponed 14 cases that were originally due to appear in Court B, Matshikwe’s court.
All of the cases scheduled for De Wee’s court, Court A, were cancelled on Tuesday.
Of the 14 cases heard in Court C on Tuesday, the ages of the accused ranged between 14 and 25.
The charges against the 14 included rape, murder and robbery with aggravating circumstances.
All of the cases were postponed, with those accused over 18 being sent back to prison and those under 18 being sent to places of safety.
This raises the possibility that some of the suspects will miss the start of the school year.
At one of Khayelitsha’s police, Site-B police station communication officer Mthokozisi Gama revealed that during the school holidays 297 young people between ages of 14 and 25 had been arrested for various crimes at the Khayelitsha police station.
Of the 297 arrested, 70 were bust for robbery with aggravating circumstances, 73 for theft and 50 for assault with intentions to do grievous bodily harm while 104 for shoplifting.
Of the 297 arrested children, 176 were children 18-years and younger. 134 of the arrested under-18 children are woman while 42 are men.
Statistics at Lingelethu West police station about the number and nature of cases reported could not be confirmed, as communication officer constable Siphokazi Mawisa is still on holiday leave, however, by the time of going to press statistics could also not be confirmed at Harare police station.
One mother, whose son is due to start Grade 10 this year and was arrested for robbery earlier this month, is worried that her son will miss school and possibly the rest of the school year due to his arrest.
She said she had appealed to the police and court officials for her son to be given bail so that he could go back to school, but her pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
“He is a first time offender and deserves another chance.
Should he be kept in prison for long, he would not be able to go to school. From what I see I think I just have to wait for the officials to come back from their holidays before my son’s case can be heard,” she said.
Another parent, also with a son due to begin Grade 10 who was arrested for housebreaking, said her son would have to miss classes because the case had been postponed until February.
“The case was postponed because there were not enough officials to listen to the cases. We were told to wait for next month when all the officials come back from the holidays. My son’s education is in jeopardy,” she said.
Attempts to find out from three Khayelitsha police stations how many children under the age of 18 had been arrested since the beginning of the year proved fruitless as communication officers were on leave.
Solomons said the Khayelitsha court closed its doors in the last week of December. Most officials returned to work after January 15.
With regards arrested suspects missing the start of the school year, Solomons said the legal system would need to run its course.