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:
— Lindani (@KhuhlaseKhondlo) June 10, 2019
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:
- Ninow’s victim was a child, and it needed to be established that identifying him wouldn’t identify her.
- The Criminal Procedure Act states that the media may only name the accused in serious sexual offence cases once they’ve entered a plea to the charges. With no plea, Ninow enjoyed anonymity until the NPA intervened.
- Muwela’s offence differs wildly from that of the alleged Dros rapist’s.
- He may be a schoolboy, but aged 19, the Forest High student is legally considered an adult. Protections offered to younger students don’t apply to him.
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.”