A warm heart in a cold court­room

CityPress - - News - BIÉNNE HUIS­MAN bi­enne.huis­man@city­press.co.za Out­side Room 2 at the Western Cape High Court, Philda Solomons from Ma­nen­berg takes Nilam Hin­docha’s hand.

“We’re with you and your fam­ily,” she tells Anni De­wani’s mother gen­tly.

“Thank you very much,” replies Nilam, who is from Mari­es­tad in Swe­den. She nearly smiles.

Both women are pe­tite and have given birth to chil­dren. Nilam (64) is wealthy, Philda (65) is from the Cape Flats. Philda’s daugh­ter is still alive.

Their eyes meet – then the mo­ment is over. Each is pulled into the throng of peo­ple pour­ing out of the court.

“I felt a lit­tle bit fake say­ing that be­cause I’m there for the De­wani fam­ily too, you know,” Philda tells me. “Lis­ten, one shouldn’t judge hey. In­no­cent un­til proven guilty, that is the rule,” she says. Philda is a high court pub­lic gallery veteran. The re­tired cater­ing worker has honed her le­gal mind at­tend­ing the mur­der tri­als of, among oth­ers, Dina Ro­drigues in 2007 and Na­jwa Petersen in 2008.

Perched on a wooden pew in the mez­za­nine pub­lic gallery this week, she points at state pros­e­cu­tor Shireen Ri­ley be­low. “Jirre, that woman is kwaai [fierce]! She sent Na­jwa to jail – wait un­til that one starts speak­ing!” OB­SERVERS Philda Solomons and Henry Sinclair, both vet­er­ans of the pub­lic gallery, out­side the Western Cape High Court this week

Philda got up at 6am to hang her laun­dry be­fore catch­ing the train to the city cen­tre.

As much as she hates dirty wash­ing at home, she loves the pub­lic air­ing of laun­dry in court.

Around us, the pub­lic gallery is packed. Lo­cals armed with lunch and cof­fee flasks ar­rived early to queue for space next to smartly at­tired sup­port­ers of the De­wani and Hin­docha fam­i­lies.

In the front pew, one woman is fast asleep and slumped over the rail­ing. A po­lice of­fi­cer taps her shoul­der gen­tly; she show­ers him with slurred ex­ple­tives. Be­low, Judge Jeanette Traverso looks up at the com­mo­tion sharply, and the of­fi­cer re­treats. The woman does not re­turn after the lunch break.

Re­flect­ing on her years spent watch­ing the drama un­fold from the pub­lic gallery, Philda says: “Dur­ing sen­tenc­ing, that’s when I feel so sad for them. Mostly, I feel so sorry for the mums. I know what it’s like to be a mother.”

For­tu­nately, Philda’s three chil­dren are well-be­haved.

She ditched their fa­ther, even though he was the love of her life, she says. She also buried him when he died 15 years ago.

Philda takes out a small packet of bis­cuits wrapped in foil and of­fers one to me.

The chilly air-con goes off and the court­room is filled with a fleet­ing sense of warmth. Here in the pub­lic gallery beats a warm heart in the oth­er­wise echoey cor­ri­dors of bu­reau­cracy.

The next day when I ar­rive at the pub­lic gallery, Philda has saved me a seat.

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