Court cases and crocodile tears

Mbabane, Swaziland | 16 April 2014
Bill Snaddon

Last week on this page, as you may recall, I said I was arranging a workshop where we would come together and brainstorm. The goal of the gathering, apart from a good feed and a hefty pay-day for my consultant/friend, was to “strategise” and come up with a Mission Statement and a Slogan for this column.

I felt that Jargon Sensitive didn’t really capture the essence of what it is all about. It needed a facelift — a nip and a tuck.

But alas — as mentioned, and now emphasised — for reasons beyond my control the workshop has been postponed indefinitely. No-one is more upset than the consultant. He has debts to pay.

But worry not, dear reader: you will be the first to know when we have set a new workshop date.

So, in light of the indefinite postponement, today’s column, in part, is about legal jargon. That obscure form of language that has the potential to soar to great heights — the potential to transcend the everyday malarkey and confusion that we often find ourselves in.

One thinks of the late Nelson Mandela: how he used words and ideas — even the unjust law itself, as it was then — to break down barriers and open up debate and hope.

In sticking with the South African theme, and because every other Tom, Dick and Harry has passed an opinion on it, let’s talk about Oscar. Not the Oscar Awards, for which he may well win one, but Oscar Pistorius — the Olympian athlete and sometime-celebrity; the man alleged to have murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steeenkamp.

I will not pass comment on this matter, as many others have before me, because I respect the courts.

Though I will say this: Is he faking those tears? “Crocodile tears,” as one person put it. I’ve never understood this phrase, which is used to describe someone faking emotional hurt. Is it because crocodiles live in water so you never know if the water on their face is tears or just normal? A quick bit of research tells me I’m wrong on that guess. Apparently crocodiles fake their crying in order to lure their prey. (For some reason I’m now reminded of an ex-girlfriend… or was that me with the tears?) Further research tells me that because crocodiles don’t have eyelids the “tears” help to keep their eyes moist.

I personally wouldn’t like to say either way – on Oscar’s tears, that is.

But I will say, guilty or not, I think I too would be crying if Prosecutor Gerrie Nel had me in the witness box.

Doesn’t Nel remind you of the school principal who knows you stole food from the tuckshop and won’t let you go until you confess?

Or perhaps he’s similar to the type of father who won’t let you leave the dinner table until you admitted to smoking that cigarette?

“No, dad, I swear, I never smoked that cigarette.”

“Well, son, what’s that smell on your clothes? It’s certainly not me or your mother, we both quit in the ‘80s.”

This is when I make a quick glance towards the cat (which usually takes the blame for the strange smells) but then I remember: the cat quit in the ‘80s, too. I I best just own up, I think. It’ll be easier that way.

The truth will set you free, as we are told in school and church. It’s funny then how we insist on forgetting this principle as we grow old.

But the law, and legal language, when deployed in its best fashion, holds the truth in its hands. Good luck Oscar.

This column was originally published in the Times of Swaziland on April 16 2014.

#18_Court cases and crocodile tears_16 Apr 2014


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