One week ago, a renowned Cape Town musician was arrested for the sexual grooming and rape of a teenage boy over a period of seven years.
The Daily Voice broke the story on Saturday – without identifying the suspect, as it is against the law to name an accused before they have appeared in court.
The news got tongues wagging furiously and generated huge public interest.
On Monday morning, when the jazz maestro had his day in the Blue Downs court, the Daily Voice newspaper had named and pictured the 48-year-old man.
The revelation sent shockwaves through the local entertainment industry and among music fans.
It couldn’t be true.
How could a respected music mentor be accused of something so vile?
He has been a regular face in the Voice over the years, featuring in popular shows and instrumental in developing young talent on the Cape Flats.
But what kind of newspaper would we be if we played up our celebrities’ achievements and played down their alleged crimes?
And in serious cases like these, who do we choose to protect?
Vulnerable victims of sexual violence, or alleged sex predators?
At a time when gender-based violence has reached pandemic status, the answer is clear.
On 18 September 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa made a landmark speech in Parliament, saying: “Abusers, rapists and murderers must know that they will be caught and they will face the consequences of their actions.
“We affirm our position that the state should oppose bail for suspects charged with rape and murder of women and children.
“Those who are found guilty should not be eligible for parole.
“A life sentence must mean just that – life in prison.”
So it was with shock and disappointment that the court ruled that the accused not only be released, but set free on just R1000 bail.
In another ruling in favour of the suspect, the court ordered that neither his picture nor his name be published in the media until he has pleaded – which could be at his next court date on 30 October.
This after the defence attorney slammed the Voice for identifying his client, citing the Criminal Procedure Act, which “prohibits the publication of the identity of the accused before they appear in court and plead”. This to prevent prejudice.
In the Voice’s experience, however, it appears this Act is applied differently from court to court, judge to judge, case to case, and defendant to defendant.
Often it isn’t applied at all. You see, once an accused’s name appears on the court roll for all to see, at an open courthouse that the media or any member of the public can attend, it’s hard to keep proceedings confidential, isn’t it?
The media’s counter to the Act is the “public interest” clause, which, according to the Press Code is “information of legitimate interest or importance to citizens”.
The key question is: Is the case of a prominent community figure accused of repeatedly raping an underaged student – against a backdrop of a gender-based violence crisis – in the public’s interest?
The court didn’t think so. Unexpected ruling, but it is what it is.
The Voice accepts and will comply with the honourable magistrate’s instructions. No name, no pictures. Got it.
Still, in the interest of fairness, the courts need to be more consistent.
Compare this case with that of Nicholas Mare, the model agency boss who was arrested after allegedly raping a 14-year-old girl he was photographing at his studio last month.
The 50-year-old was released on R10 000 bail at the Cape Town Magistrates’ Court.
He may only plead at his next court appearance on 23 September.
Incidentally, neither his attorney nor the magistrate objected to Mare’s name being published at full blast in the Voice.
So what makes the musician’s case different?