Wed. Jul 24th, 2019

Muhammad Mawela: Why the Forest High suspect had his identity revealed

Forest High Muhammad MawelaQuestions were raised about the issue of race, after Forest High’s Muhammad Mawela had his identity revealed by the media. But it’s all above board…

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The Grade 11 pupil accused of killing another learner in a suspected gang-related murder made his first appearance in court on Monday – but it was not without controversy. Muhammad Mawela, a 19-year-old student at Forest High School in Johannesburg, was granted R5 000 bail by the judge, charged with counts of murder and attempted murder.

His appearance at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court was a relatively brief one. But it was far from uneventful. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the courts, raging with the fact he was allowed his freedom. Mawela had argued that he needed to be released in order to complete his exams.

Muhammad Mawela: What we know so far

Daniel Bakwela is the 16-year-old who was fatally stabbed by the defendant. However, a toxic culture around the Turfontein facility has been blamed for this incident: It’s believed an ongoing feud between two gangs finally boiled over on the grounds of Forest High School. However, the decision to televise Mawela’s court appearance has raised eyebrows:

Whenever a young black suspect has their identity paraded by the media, the new benchmark for citizens seems to be Nicholas Ninow: Reporters had to go to great lengths to conceal his identity due to a legal minefield that was caused by his own heinous acts. So, why is the identity of Muhammad Mawela “fair game” for the media?

Forest High School: When can you name a defendant on trial, according to South African law?

If the suspect has already issued a comment in relation to the charges, then journalists have the green light to name the defendant pre-trial. Mawela has already said that he acted in”self-defence” when he killed one classmate and wounded two others, meaning he has expressed a reason for his crime and can therefore be identified.

However, the same factors applied to Ninow – or people like him – cannot be applied to Muhammad Muwela:

Naming and shaming in a legal manner

Helene Eloff is a media law expert. She told Lowvelder back in 2017 what exactly constitutes fair game when it comes to “naming and shaming” victims, explaining that once a name is placed on a court record, the accused can be identified by the media:

“Although Journalists may generally not incriminate any person without having obtained their comment on the allegations against them, anything that has been placed on the court record may be reported on without additional comment being sought. Reportage should seek to reflect what was said in a balanced way.”

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