The recent murder charge against South African Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius for killing his girlfriend has created the usual media frenzy over the latest, sensational, front-page trial. Self-appointed and network-paid experts are already giving their opinions and viewpoints as to his guilt or innocence prior to his trial, which will be conducted with only one judge, rather than a 12-person jury like the American system of justice.
A short examination of the history of the South African legal system is revealing.
In 1964, Nelson Mandela and others were sentenced to life in prison under the Sabotage Act for speaking and rebelling against the apartheid (segregation) system existing in South Africa at that time. He was finally released in 1990 and elected president of the Republic of South Africa in 1994 under the new constitution. A convicted felon, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who previously served 10 years in prison for participating in anti-apartheid activity, earned a law degree while incarcerated and was appointed in 2005 as deputy chief justice of the Republic of South Africa, the equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court in America.
The South African system, besides being nonjury and allowing a felon to serve on its highest court, also requires the accused to prove his or her innocence rather than requiring the prosecution to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
As the Pistorius case goes forward, the obvious comparison between the two legal systems will continue. What may or may not happen will generate substantial media and public interest in the latest proclaimed "trial of the century."
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