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    Generator gap: Frustration as Pretoria Magistrate's Court effectively closed by another power outage

    January 17, 2023 - Alex Mitchley


      -- The Pretoria Magistrate's Court has been without power since Monday. -- While the court managed to operate on Monday due to a generator, on Tuesday it was left crippled after the generator broke down. -- This left dozens of people frustrated and without answers for hours. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Dozens of people were left frustrated as cases in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court ground to a halt following a power outage on Monday.

      One of the city's busiest courts has been without electricity since Monday after the substation feeding it exploded.

      This left the court operating at a curtailed capacity, as the generator is unable to power the entire building.

      Department of Justice spokesperson Crispin Phiri, who visited the court building to assess the situation, said that criminal cases had been postponed, while some civils matters were still being heard.

      However, on Tuesday, the situation became worse after the generator stopped working, after it appeared to overheat. Phiri said the Department of Public Works was on site to try and fix the generator.

      This resulted in the court effectively closing, as the dark building posed a risk to those inside.

      In the meantime, people attending to court matters were moved from the front entrance to the back, where the staff generally park.

      Several people, including lawyers, told News24 that they had waited for hours to get information about whether or not cases would be heard on Tuesday.

      One lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he had been waiting outside the court since 08:30, trying to ascertain whether his client's criminal case would be postponed.


      Another woman, whose alleged attacker was meant to start trial on charges of assault and crimen injuria, was left angry and frustrated by the court's closure.

      She said she had mentally prepared herself for the start of the trial and had barely slept, only to arrive at a closed court.

      She added that no one had informed her about the closure or whether she could leave, given that she had been subpoenaed to appear as a witness in the trial.

      Several other people waiting at the staff parking area echoed these frustrations, particularly because they had not been told what was going on.

      Eventually, around 12:00 noon, the court manager addressed the crowd and told them that the cases had been postponed, and that only lawyers would be allowed inside court to get postponement dates.

      'Not optimal'

      Those without lawyers were asked to give their names and case numbers, and told that the postponement dates would be made available to them.

      Phiri said he understood the frustration of lawyers and members of the public, adding that they were trying to get to the bottom of the problem.

      Phiri relayed comments made by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, who had addressed staff on a national level earlier on Tuesday.

      "You can't come to court and be further frustrated. You can't come to a justice building and be further frustrated, but sadly this is what people are experiencing."

      | Virtual reality: Johannesburg High Court returns to online hearings due to load shedding

      While efforts were underway to fix the generator, Phiri added that they were also engaging with the City of Tshwane regarding the power outage.

      The City confirmed that a substation had exploded and that it was being attended to.

      The situation at the magistrate's court is similar to one playing out at the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.

      Last week, News24 reported that Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng High Court Judge Roland Sutherland had said many things were "not optimal" at the court in Johannesburg, but that it was at the mercy of the Office of the Chief Justice and the Department of Public Works.

      In a notice on Friday, Sutherland announced that, effective immediately, the default mode for hearing all matters would be by video link because there was no backup in the building to cope with load shedding.

      He said the court building had not been given a reliable generator which could cover the outage periods.

      In both cases, the courts have been left crippled.

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