Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has condemned “in the strongest possible terms the anarchic violence” by protesters at the Senekal Magistrate’s Court in the Free State on Tuesday.
His spokesperson, Chrispin Phiri, said preliminary reports indicated that gunshots were fired, a police vehicle was overturned and set alight, the court vandalized and court property damaged.
This followed the appearance of two men on charges relating to the murder of farm manager Brendin Horner, 22, in Paul Roux outside Bethlehem on Friday.
Earlier News24 reported that about 100 people stormed the Senekal Magistrate’s Court after the appearance of Sekwetje Isaiah Mahlamba, 32, and Sekola Piet Matlaletsa, 44, who are accused of Horner’s murder.
Horner was murdered and tied, with a rope around his neck, to a pole. He had serious injuries to his head and face. A knife was found near the scene.
During the altercation at the court on Tuesday gunshots were fired – though both the police and the protesters deny firing the shots. Court property was also damaged and a police vehicle overturned and set alight.
Assault on rule of law
“The disturbing scenes of members of the public storming a court and damaging property have no place in a free and democratic South Africa.
“Beyond the obvious trail of destruction of public property, [Tuesday’s] actions are an inexcusable assault on the rule of law and the criminal justice system.
“We want to urge members of the community, however aggrieved they might be, to allow the court and the justice system to run their course,” Phiri said.
Lamola added: “We urge the law enforcement authorities to ensure that the rule of law is maintained and an important part of that is to ensure that those responsible for undermining the administration of justice and the destruction of public property are brought to book.
“The right to hold or participate in protest action is a constitutional right; however, no right is unlimited, and with this right comes the responsibility to exercise the right to protest in a lawful manner.
“Protesters may not damage private or public property or act in a manner that infringes on the rights or the safety of others.
“In their attempt to storm into the court, the protesters’ actions in Senekal [on Tuesday] were an attempt to undermine the rule of law and damage the very same justice system that ought to protect society.
“If such attacks against the rule of law are allowed to go unchecked, our society will run the risk of descending into anarchy. It is in the interest of everyone to ensure that respect for the rule of law is defended and upheld.
“However strongly communities may feel about issues, we simply cannot allow individuals to take the law into their own hands,” Lamola said.
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