Justice and Correctional Services Minister, Ronald Lamola, has told the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that the courts were prepared to deal with any potential influx of cases emanating from arrests made during the July 2021 unrest.
Lamola was giving evidence at the Gauteng leg of the SAHRC’s National Investigative Hearings into the July unrest.
The Minister told the commission that the unrest prompted the department to take steps to prepare for the hundreds of people arrested during the unrest.
At least 486 people were arrested during that time, with 18 of those charged for inciting public violence.
“[This] necessitated the department to issue a directive that would enable the… speedy processing of accused persons [arrested in]… the July unrest,” said Lamola.
Over and above this, the Minister said the courts continued with their usual work during the unrest.
“There was no massive disruption. During this period of unrest, all these cases were able to go through our courts system. They appeared, those who wanted to apply for bail applied, [some] were granted [and others]… were denied [bail]. The wheels of justice were turning, they never stopped.”
Lamola said some of the July unrest cases are still in the courts.
“The court backlog has always been there and was exacerbated by the COVID-19 [lockdown], which to date we are still handling and dealing with. But these matters are still on the court roll.
“Some have been finalised, some [were granted] bail, and so forth. There is still that process to manage them, so that the wheels of justice continue to roll.”
During the unrest, a case management task team, comprising representatives from the police, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Correctional Services and Justice officials, met frequently.
“The task team was established to monitor and track criminal cases arising from the July unrest, [and] court outcomes and incarceration. When applicable, the structures and sub-committees met daily throughout the commencement of the unrest, until well into the month of September 2021.
“The [department] played a pivotal role in the case management task team, as the focus was on the management of the criminal cases arising from the SAPS arrests and the NPA prosecutions.
“It was the department’s responsibility to ensure that the courts were in a position to deal with these cases speedily and efficiently,” Lamola said.
Although cases arising from the unrest were given special attention, other priority matters concerning serious crimes, including corruption, sexual offences and gender based violence, were not put on the back burner.
“We also came to the realisation that we cannot say that the courts must only deal with these matters of massive unrest and looting… There were also cases that the President said are priority cases that can never wait for anything and cannot be stopped. They must proceed to be heard,” the Minister said.
Lamola’s testimony at the hearings continues.