How Schabir Tried to Come to My Rescue by Nicking a Press Pass
I was complaining to Schabir Shaik in the courtyard of Durban's High Court that, for once, a certain Sunday newspaper had got it right.
The newspaper had said that "hundreds" of journalists would descend on the court and, by golly, they did.
So much so that the national directorate of public prosecution's Sipho Ngwema decided that each newspaper group could get only two passes to the proceedings.
This decision left me outside the court with photographers and various other folk below No2 in their organisation's pecking order.
Now maybe the NDPP does have jurisdiction over the courthouse. (I believe it's called magister loci - "lordship of the area"). But I was nonetheless outraged at the prospect of having to leave the trial.
I even thought I might ask Gilbert Marcus SC - appearing for e.tv, which had applied to televise the proceedings - to launch a quick pro deo application for me against the NDPP.
In the end, however, I simply walked in as a member of the public. This meant that I couldn't sit with the hordes of hacks, which was more than fine with me.
At any rate, when I explained to Shaik what had befallen me, he said: "Oh, I can sort that out."
And he promptly pulled the media pass off the jacket lapel of Business Day's Tim Cohen and pinned it onto my shirt.
"Er, Schabir," said Cohen gently, "maybe your way of sorting out problems is precisely what ..."
"On second thoughts," said Shaik, peering at the plastic yellow pass which read "Media: The State versus Schabir Shaik", "I'm not certain that you want to wear that thing ..."
Court A of the Durban High Court is a small, wood-panelled, colonial room with South Africa's former coat of arms (Ex unitate vires, a lion and a unicorn) resplendent on the wall behind the judge, Hillary Squires, resplendent in his red robes.
Anton Steynberg, who is assisting Billy Downer SC, in the prosecution of Shaik and his companies, warned all and sundry that if they didn't switch off their cellphones, there was a very good chance that if they rang, they would be confiscated by the judge until the end of the proceedings. Judge Squires has been known to do this, it seems.
The Shaik family was present en masse in the court, at least until the charges were dropped against accused number 11, Thint, the French arms dealer, and attention was focused on e.tv's application.
Brother Mo Shaik stepped outside, as he often did during the Hefer Commission in Bloemfontein, to smoke his large pipe - which has made him one of the two best-known pipe smokers in the land.
Talking of the commission, having the e.tv application take up the first day was not unlike reporter Ranjeni Munusamy's "trial within a trial" when Judge Hefer deliberated on whether she should testify.
When Judge Squires asked Marcus why the issues in the case were "wider" than the criminal charges, Marcus replied: "Without wishing to over-dramatise, the issues in this trial are, er, all about the governance of the country."
With acknowledgements to Jeremy Gordin and The Star.