Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Oprah, Sebokeng and stuff

Interest in the ongoing trial of the woman accused of doing wicked things to girls at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy seems to have died down. The first time the baby-faced dorm parent appeared in the Sebokeng Magistrate's Court there was a media circus as local journalists, foreign media, TV, radio, print, agencies, news wires and hordes of American reporters were there. It was a bun fight of note. A temporarily appointed prosecutor took charge of the packed courtroom and told everyone to be quiet. And then she took the hilarious decision to speak Afrikaans for a bit, causing huge consternation among the drawling crew all anxious to put out the story.

Since then there have been numerous court appearances - each one less interesting than the last. It was fun in the beginning. We learned that the 27-year-old woman stood accused of range of crimes, ranging from inappropriately kissing and touching girls of 13 to brawling with a co-worker, from assaulting one child and holding her under a shower to rubbing custard in another one's hair. For each court appearance she resorted to a different tactic to dodge the media attention. She wore a wig, a cap, over-sized sunglasses or a towel over her head. Sometimes she would hide in the packed gallery, other times she would use a police escort.

Today she appeared again. It was uneventful to say the least. The usually packed gallery was today filled by ... me. The accused strolled in casually and sat nearby until she was called to the dock. The prosecutor - a passionate man who has gone to extremes like ordering that paper be taped over windows at the court to keep his child witnesses safe from public eyes - orderd me out of the courtroom so that he could finish off with the last girl's evidence.

And so I went and waited outside. I finished a fiendish Sudoku puzzle, cracked a new Tetris record on my phone and, to my great pride, discovered an unlocked handicapped toilet that was clean, big enough to swing two cats in AND had toilet paper. This is a brilliant achievement in a court house where you are blessed to find a loo with a door that actually closes and the stench doesn't make you gag, let alone one with a seat or a roll of paper in sight.

After the tea break I was allowed back in the courtroom, thrilled to be the only one present when the first adult witness took the stand. This was MY story. A worldwide scoop! American news networks will be phoning me all over again for a Joburger's account of the sordid story. I was ready. Everyone filed into court - the prosecutor, the defence advocate, the US attorney out here on a watching brief for Ms Winfrey, clerks and orderlies, one other member of the public and the magistrate herself. And then the wheels just fell off. There was a problem, the magistrate announced. The defence had a sore knee and was not feeling well, so court could not proceed. The matter was not to continue. It was to be postponed. For months....

Ah man! I drove back in disappointment. It was raining in Jozi. Again. Zuma had succeeded in delaying his next court appearance. Again.

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