MY FIRST VISIT TO SARS OFFICE
I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I was just 2 years old as a lawyer. Some clients had been arrested and detained by SARS officers, and they wanted our office to help secure their release.
What led to their detention?
There was a land dispute between our clients’ family and another family. This land dispute had been on for some time and all attempts to settle it at the family and village level proved abortive.
One morning, at about 2am, our clients woke up to shouts and gunshots by men who were armed to the teeth. The armed men were SARS officers and they hauled our clients away. At 8am that morning, other family members were in chambers asking us to help secure the release of their fathers and brothers.
My principal sent me to find out the reason for the arrest and how we could get them out. When I got there, the first thing that hit my nose was this nauseous smell that pervaded the atmosphere. It was so bad that I felt like throwing up.
When I asked for the cause of the bad odour, my clients all looked away. I later found out it was from corpses buried in shallow graves in the premises.
My enquiries on behalf of our clients showed that a petition had been written by a lawyer which led to our clients’ arrest and detention. Somehow, a land matter had metamorphosed into a robbery case.
The petition that performed this magic was written by a lawyer who knew the facts of the case and was also part of the team that was trying to settle the matter.
We cannot talk about police brutality and the problems of SARS without talking about our part as lawyers.
Many of us have written petitions that turned simple debt matters into issues of threat to life;
Others have advised their clients to make reports of kidnapping out of a simple business contract that turned sour.
What do we say of ordinary quarrels in the compound that we helped our clients turn to cases of breaking and entering?
If police brutality must end, we should be ready to do our parts as lawyers. Stop using your office and letterhead as instruments of oppression. Change begins with us. We should do well to advice our clients properly.
Stop turning civil suits to criminal offences just to satisfy the whims and caprices of your clients.
I hope this meets you well.
Good morning and happy new week.