The long wait for justice in Swaziland

By Nonhlanhla Vilakati | December 03rd, 2012
The long wait for justice in Swaziland - Feminist analysis of Simelane case

In Swaziland, the slow pace of the judicial process is a reality that citizens have long since grown accustomed to. The system is riddled with delays and there is always a lengthy backlog of un-heard cases on the High Court roll. However, delays usually occur once the accused is charged – not before the trial has even begun.

But not in the controversial case of serial killer David Simelane, who was eventually found guilty of at least 28 murders and sentenced to death (OSISA opposes the death penalty – Ed). His extraordinary case was delayed at every stage – pre-trial, during the trial and even in the lengthy appeal process. While the actual trial is said to have involved 157 days in court, there were so many delays, postponements and adjournments that the entire matter from his arrest to his conviction took a decade.

Never had a case in Swaziland dragged on for so long and amounted to ten years of torment for the traumatised families of his victims, who had to wait an incredibly long time for justice to be served.

Simelane was arrested in April 2001 but was only arraigned in court for the first time in 2004.

Astonishingly, Swazis had to wait for three years for preliminary investigations to be completed and for Simelane to be formally charged and brought to trial. No one has ever heard of a case in Swaziland that took so long to officially begin. And in this regard, it was clear to any interested observer – and there were many – that this case would be a classic example of the denial of justice through delay.

Criminal activity disrupts order and well-being in any society – a disruption that is exacerbated by the perceived or actual failure of the justice system in any given situation to respond effectively to the human cry for justice. In addition, the unprecedented nature of Simelane’s crimes – the pre-meditated murder of so many women – should have precipitated the most urgent judicial redress rather than the slowest judicial response on record.

Understandably, the protracted delays bred uncertainty about whether the case was a prosecutable legal matter and whether it would ever be resolved. Indeed, the endless delays engendered doubt, anxiety, impatience, disappointment and even desire among some people to take the law into their own hands. And the delays did not only result in the denial of justice but also in additional suffering for those who were waiting for the state to prosecute Simelane for the brutal killing of their loved ones.

From these introductory remarks, it is evident that the David Simelane case was historic – even if it were for all the wrong reasons. This paper serves not only to document this gross violation of the victims’ human rights but also to provide lessons from this terrible case that will ultimately help to create a better tomorrow for the Swazi nation and the southern African region.

The necessity for a post-prosecution analysis has already been articulated in a variety of ways by those who took an interest in the case, such as the Director of the Swaziland Action Group Against Abuse (SWAGAA), Cebile Manzini-Henwood, who said:

The long wait was not justified. We have to look at the reasons that cause cases of gender-based violence to be postponed for so long.

And she is correct because at the core of discussions about this case are its nature as a gendered legal matter and the implications it holds for women’s rights in Swaziland and the southern African region.


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