Johannesburg, South Africa
6.45pm. Monday 17 April 2006. I logged onto a local news site and was thrilled to see a photo of Brett Goldin, my colleague Peter’s son. Brett was an up-and-coming actor and we’d been closely following his successes over the years, sharing in Peter’s pride and excitement as Brett appeared in plays, on television and landed his first film roles.
6.47pm. Monday 17 April 2006. Oh no. No, no, no, no, no. Brett Goldin and his friend Richard Bloom were carjacked around midnight on 15/16 April 2006, stripped naked, shot in the back of the head and left to die beside the highway outside of Cape Town. Murder.
The next six months passed in a blur as we struggled to come to terms with the murder that broke the hearts of Peter and his family. Nothing felt right or safe in the world anymore.
On a personal level, I suffered from nightmares and insomnia and was overcome by images of somebody turning towards me, pulling out a gun and pointing it at my head. This had in fact happened to me in January 1998 when I was in a bank robbery. It was difficult to see it at the time (and these intrusive images and nightmares lasted for two years until early 2008) but the murder of these two people was a trigger and finally forced me to confront the unresolved issues stemming from that bank robbery.
29 May 2006: Nurshad Davids and Jayde Wyngaard turn state witnesses. They admitted to robbing and carjacking Brett and Richard and agreed to testify against the alleged killers Shavaan Marlie and Clinton Davids. They were convicted of robbery, kidnapping and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
Link: Secrecy surrounds Goldin, Bloom witnesses [IOL]
9 January 2007: Peter Goldin passed away, most of us believed of a broken heart.
In February 2007 we made the decision to leave South Africa. We try to tell people it wasn’t because of the crime but of course it was. It just wasn’t because of these crimes. It was because I knew two other people who had been murdered, shot in the back of the head execution style and because I had been attacked in my car and in my home. These murders were just the final straw.
21 May 2007: The murderers of Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom confessed to their crimes, thus avoiding a long, drawn-out trial. They were sentenced to 28 years each.
Link: Goldin, Bloom: Plea spells out executions [IOL]
At the time Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom were murdered, I not only believed in the death penalty, I wanted to pick up a gun and mete out justice myself. (The death penalty was abolished in South Africa in 1995, with the last execution carried out in 1989).
I wrote this in May 2006:
Hello anger (a love poem for Nurshad Davids)
Were I to come upon you face to face
In a dark time and isolated place
And were I to have a gun or even a knife
Then I would not hesitate to take your life
I would not hesitate to tear out your eyes
To take you under, to drown you in your lies
But could I really use a gun?
A bullet is over before its begun
No, anger takes me to a blacker place
I plot and plan a more appalling fate
I would want to make you beg and plead
Make you see the horror of your sickening deed
I want to rip the heart out of your mother's chest
Devastate her with grief, make her beat her breast
And when you think my calm has come
Mercy is here, forgiveness is done
You will see in my eye a terrifying resolve
See me step out of my moral and upright mould
For I do not purport to be Judge or Jury
But in a second you'll know my name is Fury
Somewhere along the way, perhaps it was when the killers confessed their crimes, I began to believe that death penalty is never the answer, that it can only ever amount to an act of revenge. I came to stand by rehabilitation and due process. Of course, that is my privilege. Had it been my brother or son that had been murdered, I have no doubt that I would never have reached that conclusion.
All of this is swimming around in my head at the moment. I’m feeling raw and vulnerable, emotions I imagine must pale in comparison to how the family and close friends of Brett Goldin are feeling today. Nurshad Davids has applied for parole after serving just 5 years and 5 months of his effective 12 year sentence (he received 15 years with 3 years suspended).
Link: Outrage at Goldin killer’s parole bid [IOL]
An online petition has been set up to protest against this parole bid: SAY NO! to parole for Brett Goldin/Richard Bloom convicts. The petition has received over 2,000 signatures so far and Richard’s father Tony is quoted as saying, “[w]e will be submitting an affidavit, objecting, and are also going to appear.”
I am absolutely torn by all of this. Firstly, Nurshad Davids was not charged or convicted of murder. I don’t believe there exists, in South African law, a concept of ‘felony murder’ and even if the concept does exist, Nurshad was not charged or convicted of such a crime. He was convicted of robbery, kidnapping and possession of an unlicensed firearm and ammunition. I believe there is a line between violent crime and murder, a line that speaks to the increased possibility of rehabilitation for the former.
I firmly believe that if Nurshad Davids has been rehabilitated, if he has learned a trade, shown remorse, come clean off drugs and completed a recovery programme, then theoretically, it should be up to the parole board to decide whether or not to release him into society.
The problem is that it doesn’t quite work like that in South Africa. Nurshad Davids was shown to have gang ties to alleged Americans gang boss Igshaan "Sanie American" Davids. It is entirely possible that he either began or continued gang activity in Drakenstein prison. Indeed, prison time is often seen as an essential step in moving up in gangs in South Africa.
South African prisons are notorious for a lack of resources, conditions of overcrowding, massive levels of violence and gang activity. This leads to catastrophically low levels of rehabilitation as inmates are denied the opportunity to work, study or learn a trade. This is a problem seen around the world but one that contributes to a 94% recidivism rate in South Africa. (See: T S Thinane thesis)
I want to believe that at some level, we have to have faith in the legal system, otherwise what is the point? If we can’t trust the police, the courts, prisons or parole boards, then we are one step away from vigilantism and chaos. Which, incidentally, is a state many South Africans believe has already been reached.
Most importantly, perhaps, is the general lack of faith that South Africans have in the justice system. The perception is that the parole board is more likely to approve parole in order to relieve conditions of overcrowding in prisons than they are to ensure that Nurshad Davids is indeed rehabilitated.
As this struggle looks to be played out in the public sphere and more members of the public sign the petition, perhaps it is time for Davids’s lawyers to release details regarding his time in prison and the work he has done to improve his life and atone for his part in these crimes? Emotionally, this will not convince anyone that he deserves to be paroled, but surely there are conditions that must be met from a legal point of view?
For once, I hope that the South African justice system makes the right decision.