Justice and Magical Realism by Margie Orford

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Courtroom dramas are in a little 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 paneling, 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 presiding over South African courts 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 his brutal slaying alongside with 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 language of the dominatrix!) 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 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 Matthew Naidoo, the self-proclaimed ‘third son of god.’ This is one the aspects of the case that has perplexed me. If Jesus was the first Son of God and Matthew from Pineview was the third, then who is the second Son of God? The Durban High Court has not addressing this particular theological detail, but you will excuse them. Such bizarre ramblings have been presented as evidence.

For example the judge had to sit through testimony, as reported by IOL, that ‘murder accused Nicolette Lotter had been spiritually raped by a tokoloshe as a result of witchcraft by her domestic worker… and she was tormented when she was around. Nicolette started having nightmares, found dead frogs, chicken feet and snake skins at her house.’

There is not even a semblance of the search for a rational explanation or seeking treatment for hallucinations. I can just imagine the lawyer-client consultation in which they decided that the witchcraft/tokoloshe defence was the way to go rather than the ordinary, everyday insanity defence.

Ms Lotter is a wide-eyed innocent who admits to knifing her pleading mother to death. She went on to say under oath that she ‘could not focus on her studies and decided to get help as she was desperate and scared of her domestic worker. She went to eight ministries but no one could help her… Eventually she met Mathew Naidoo and “this thing left me” when they were intimate. “I was so grateful that this thing had gone and was not raping me anymore. I was relieved, I thought that this guy was so godly, so good.”

So far I have heard of no psychiatric assessments, but a ‘pastor’ was called. This pastor, it was reported, ‘told of certain manifestations that happened when evil forces took hold of people and how these forces could be driven out when ordered to do so by an authority…The pastor said this was in the realm of the supernatural He said that when people were possessed, they believed that whatever they were doing was the right thing to do.’

Underlying this peculiar mish-mash of childish fears and a complete rejection of the rational are the prejudices of one version of white, suburban South Africa that has melded racism, terror of the tokoloshe, belief in witchcraft and satanic possession with the fundamentalist versions of Christianity that have found such fertile soil in South Africa.

It is a lot of violent hocus-pocus. Dish out some psychiatric care and give me science any day.

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