I often wonder why South Africa has eleven official languages for only two are used in court and that would be Afrikaans or English. And since all educated South Africans are able to read, write and speak English well enough to communicate clearly in it is unusual to for court translators to be used from English to Afrikaans and Afrikaans to English. I suppose that English is used for the benefit of the Judge and international viewers in this Pistorius trial for the accused, defense and prosecutor are all native Afrikaans speakers.
As you have probably seen not all translators are up to the task and in court that can be fatal for the accused. It also leaves a wry smile on those of us who are well able to speak both languages and actually understand where the translation errors occur. By law though, the translated version stands and not what you deduct. It is a basic human right (always been like that in South Africa) to testify in whatever language you feel comfortable in but it is extremely frustrating for everyone involved including the lawyers who are stopped in their tracks as they wait for the translator to translate what they said. From my police days we were convinced this also gave the accused / witness an unfair advantage. They obviously understood the question and whilst waiting for the translator they think what to answer instead of just the truth. However, lying in court always has a way of coming out. You must remember, there are no real surprises in court.
The defense team has the same witness statements before the trial starts and ample time to work out what questions to ask. Indeed, they do not ask a question without knowing the probable answer and work up to whatever they want highlighted to their own advantage. They have a whole strategy planned around it and watching like hawks for any physical discomfort from the witness like the touching of his nose (means he is lying) or an involuntary twitch of his foot (does not want to answer or go that direction). Such behavior is also noted by the Judge who by the way, cannot be bribed in South Africa. I read with much distress some comments from people who seem to think such things happens regularly. Let me assure you that I am not aware of any High Court Judge bribed in the last 300 years in South Africa. It is a common misconception foreigners have about Africa...that the standards are lower than in the West. You cannot be more wrong and should read my book Tricks of Trade - Memories of a Rogue Lawyer in this regard. In certain instances African standards are higher than what the West is used to.
The answer to cross examination is simple, just tell what you know and if you don't know say so. There is nothing a defense lawyer can do when faced with a witness who tells the truth. It is only when lying where things go bad - remember - these lawyers dealt with liars all their adult life. They do have a sixth sense on such things and will home in on it if it exists. Never lie in court.
Koos Kotze is a former member of the South African Police Force. He served between 1985 and 1991 primarily as a sergeant in the Pretoria Flying Squad. After leaving the Police Force he obtained the law degrees B Iuris & LLB at the University of the Free State (Bloemfontein, South Africa) and was a practicing commercial law attorney for eight years. He also wrote several books on business, law, counter terrorism and security issues. He is a widower and lives in Bloemfontein, South Africa.