Stories of Advocacy: Who’s on my path?
By Paul Johnson
A couple of weeks ago, I heard that our Malawian gardener of five years, Masina, was arrested for breaking into a car, which sounded very out of character as he’s only been reliable and hard-working while he’s been working for us. He told me that he had a court date coming up and he was really nervous that if he appeared in court he would get put in jail. When he was arrested he was also beaten up by the cops for no reason. I tried to convince him that he had to go because if he didn’t go he would be held in contempt of court and, if the police caught him, he would be thrown out of the country.
He explained to me that he couldn’t go because the justice system in our country doesn’t work. His plan was to move from where he lives in Capricorn to Hout Bay, where he believed no one would be able to find him. I tried to convince him that the police would catch up with him but he was so afraid that he’d be thrown into jail for no reason.
“You don’t know what the police are like,” he said. Slowly the story started to come out. He was walking in the street where the car had been broken into but he wasn’t there when it had happened. But as he and his friends happened to be in the street when the police arrived, they arrested him.
I told him I’d go with him to court to find out what happened. At court, he would try to speak to people but no one would listen to him. Then I got up to speak to them, and they suddenly started listening to me. So I spent the whole day at the court going around to people trying to get a sense of what had really happened.
Eventually, someone sent me across the road to the Caledon Square police station where I tried to find the policeman who had made the arrest. He wasn’t there but they allowed me to phone him. On the phone, I asked him, “What’s the problem with this guy? He’s been charged with a crime he says he hasn’t committed. You can’t have fingerprints, because he hasn’t ever touched the car. He wasn’t even near the car. You can’t have any witnesses.” The policeman replied, “Let me tell you. I saw him walking in the street and I thought it probably would be him so I accused him of the crime. He said he was innocent but I didn’t like his attitude. So we beat him up and we locked him up for the weekend. And I decided I was going to charge him with the crime.”
I replied, “You can’t get away with this because you’ve got no evidence.” He said, “When it goes to court, I’m a policeman. It’s my testimony against his and he’s a foreigner. Who’s the judge going to believe? I’ll tell the judge that I saw him break into the car.” I asked him, “Why would you do that if he’s innocent?” He said, “Because he was rude to me and I didn’t like his attitude.” I couldn’t believe it. After this, I immediately spoke to the prosecutor and told him about the conversation and they dropped the case.
Last week, Masina got his new work permit and he’s happily still living in Capricorn. He’s been empowered because this sentence over his head has been removed. And all it took was me going to court for a day.
It’s such an injustice that these things can happen. And that the consequences of these injustices are so dire. It’s not as though he was going to lose R10. If no one had stood up for him, his whole life was going to be affected. He was going to get sent back to Malawi, away from his job and his home. If I allowed this to happen, his future would have been completely different. It kind of became incumbent on me not to allow this to happen.
It’s a part of living a missional lifestyle. In the story of the Good Samaritan, when the lawyer asked, “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus replied with a parable about a man who was going on a journey and met someone on his path. I believe God sends people across our path. I can’t do anything about the thousands of injustices that are happening all over the world, but I can do something for the people who I meet on my daily path.
– Paul Johnson serves on the eldership team of the Common Ground South congregation, together with his wife Sally