On the 9th of September 2020 George Bizos, that unrelenting crusader for justice, succumbed to death at a ripe age of 92.
His passing hit close to home. It left my brother, Mike (a former client of Bizos) heart-broken. I was similarly deeply saddened. He impacted on our lives in different ways. Mike wrote me soon after he learnt of his passing: “My intimates are falling in quick succession. Beginning to feel like I am in the queue”. Not long time ago he lost another close friend – Andrew Mlangeni, an anti-apartheid campaigner, who, along with my brother and Nelson Mandela were imprisoned for furthering the aims of the African National Congress (ANC) and were sentenced to serve in Robben Island.
A woman who held firm against a shady 'fronting' scheme has been vindicated by the high court in Mombasa. After Rachel Ndambuki refused to become part of the scheme she was demoted and sent to another office. However, she persisted with her legal action, saying her transfer and demotion had infringed a number of her rights and that she should be paid damages. The case also saw a prominent civil servant be declared in contempt of court, and be fined, after ignoring a court order not to effect Ndambuki's transfer until the court had heard full argument in the case.
Just as Human Rights Watch issued its horrific report on the shackling of people with mental illness in many countries around the world, so an equally horrific case has emerged in Namibia. The report and the case show that there is a great deal still to be done to sensitise ordinary members of communities round the world – and, sadly, this includes magistrates, whom one might expect to know better – about how to respond to mental illness and what the law and the constitution require in such cases. Judges of Namibia’s high court recently picked up on review that there had been a problem with the trial of a woman recognised as mentally ill by her community, but by the time the magistrate responded to their questions almost a year down the line, it was too late: though the judges set aside her conviction days before World Mental Health Day, she had already served the sentence in full.
As concern grows about enormous amounts of money unlawfully leaving Africa, two new reports and a significant court case highlight the growing problem. A new report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, 'Economic Development in Africa 2020', estimates that if illicit capital flight from Africa were stopped, it could virtually halve the financing gap of $200b that the continent faces if it is to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals. And while experts are unanimous that illicit financial flow must be stopped, another report gives a concrete example of what seems to have been going wrong. Entitled, 'The Golden Laundromat; the conflict gold trade from Eastern Congo to the United States and Europe', it is a report of an investigation into 'the dirty money connected to African war criminals and transnational war profiteers'. In particular, the report points to the Uganda-based African Gold Refinery (AGR), saying it has been refining gold from conflict areas of the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, which is then exported through a series of companies to Europe and the United States. AGR is challenging the report in court in Uganda, claiming it is defamatory. Pending a full hearing, however, AGR asked the court for an interim order that the report has to be removed from the website. As readers will quickly see, however, there was no chance that the court would agree to silence the Laundromat: the two brothers running AGR were recently convicted in a court in Antwerp of both money-laundering and fraud.
In one of her last decisions before ending a five-year contract as head of the judiciary in Seychelles, Chief Justice Mathilda Twomey came out strongly on the need for the country’s penal code to be modernised in relation to its definition of consent in sexual offences. The CJ said that at present it only defined ‘absence of consent’, and that it was time ‘to look beyond the traditional male perspective as the prism through which sexual offences must necessarily be viewed.’