Innocence on his mind

02 April 2006 - 02:00 By unknown

THEY call him Unkempt Kemp. And if the epithet has reached his ears it doesn't seem to have bothered him: ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma's lawyer, Kemp J Kemp, still strides to court wearing nondescript, ill-fitting clothes, his hair a bedraggled tangle of unwieldy locks.

Walking up the steps towards the courthouse he seems absent-minded, only occasionally waving at the media cameras, or at the gaggle of Zuma supporters singing and chanting outside court.

But once inside court Kemp is the ultimate defence lawyer - famously persistent, cocky and ruthless during cross examinations. He plays his role with the greatest aplomb.

But where other defence lawyers - such as the late Johnny Cochran, who defended US football player OJ Simpson in that famous murder trial - would raise their voices in heightened fervour to be heard and to intimidate, Kemp is soft-spoken almost to the point of being inaudible.

Zuma is alleged to have raped a family friend at his Johannesburg home on November 2 last year. He has denied this, claiming they had consensual sex.

Though he denies it, Kemp's style could be described as badgering and overbearing if one studies his cross-examinations of the state's witnesses - the complainant and her mother, the complainant's friend Kimi Msibi, trauma expert Dr Merle Friedman, Commissioner Norman Taioe and Superintendent Peter Linda.

On Tuesday, before the case was postponed, Kemp patiently went through his 106-page Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act application for the rape charges against Zuma to be dismissed.

He argued his case by citing precedents set by so many previous cases that many court attendants fell asleep. The man was unrelentingly rigorous.

Judge Willem van der Merwe only interrupted to get clarification from Kemp.

"It cannot, surely, be suggested that the court might convict if the evidence in the absence of evidential contradiction does not establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt? What sort of court would do that?" asked the cocky lawyer.

Charin de Beer and her co-prosecutors Advocate Hermann J Broodryk and Advocate Mutuwa Nengovhela took notes and avoided unnecessary objections. Kemp clearly wanted nothing from the judge but an acquittal for Zuma.

During one of the longest deliberations since the beginning of the trial, Kemp argued in his application that it was difficult to prove mens rea (a guilty mind) in matters requiring consent and that both sides' accounts of the event were similar except for the alleged rape itself.

He said things needed to be put into context and that it was important to look at events and impressions leading up to the alleged rape and events afterwards.

Kemp argued that on the night of the alleged rape Zuma had repeatedly told the complainant he was going to tuck her in and that he also visited her in the guest room.

"In his mind what is going to happen is he is going to come back to the room. If one was dealing with someone who was walking in with the intention to rape, it is a bit odd conduct to wake up your victim."

Kemp reminded the court that the complainant was an accomplished liar who lied with ease.

"She lied to the police at the gate," he said. "She lied to the accused about meeting him after the event ... She lied to the press to whether she had been raped and she went along with the lie to Zweli Mkhize as to whether she is considering to drop charges."

Kemp further argued that the state had attached too much importance to evidence by Friedman that the alleged victim, whose testimony he dismissed as fraught with factual inaccuracies, had "frozen" on the night in concern.

He also called on Judge Van der Merwe to rule inadmissable the testimony by two policemen, Commissioner Taioe and Superintendent Linda, that Zuma allegedly pointed out the guest room as the scene of the crime.

The alleged victim claims to have been raped in the guest room of Zuma's Johannesburg home, but Zuma maintains they had consensual sex in his bedroom.

"The accused prays for a discharge and the inadmissibility of the Epping Road utterances by him," Kemp concluded in his application.

But Judge Van der Merwe, quieter than usual on Wednesday, turned down his application.

"In the first, I cannot agree that the evidence led by the state is of such poor quality that it cannot be accepted.

"I can therefore not ignore the evidence so far led.

"I am of the opinion that there is evidence before me that if nothing more is said, a finding of mens rea to rape can be made," he said.

Leaving the court after the ruling, Zuma managed a smile for his supporters and for attorney Michael Hulley, but he had the bearing of a defeated man, afraid of spending his future in orange overalls instead of his well-tailored suits.

For Kemp, the judge's decision was obviously a bitter pill to swallow and he left the court with a hang-dog expression, obviously not looking forward to Plan B.

Born and bred in the Eastern Cape, Kemp was considered one of the brightest and most talented scholars when he matriculated from Kirkwood High School in 1969.

By the time he received his LLB (Cum Laude) in 1975, Kemp had earned his Eastern Province colours for athletics and played on the wing for the University of Port Elizabeth's (UPE) first rugby team.

In an interview with the Sunday Times's sister newspaper The Daily Dispatch, Tertius Delport, UPE professor of law at the time, described Kemp as something of a prodigy.

Delport said Kemp was appointed as lecturer in the law department following the completion of his LLB degree and that he had completed his doctorate in the law of delict - which deals with negligence and malpractice - in only three years.

"I can still remember how one of the external examiners referred to his doctoral thesis as one of the most incredible pieces of work he had ever read," said Delport.

Kemp lives with his second wife, Anna, and their two children in Westville, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal.

He is well known for his representations of prominent Durban personalities.

Last year he helped to have set aside the Pietermaritzburg High Court's conviction and sentencing on charges of rape of Inkatha Freedom Party MP and national organiser Albert Mangaqa Mncwango.

Two years ago Kemp successfully represented rugby player Ollie le Roux when he was embroiled in a contractual dispute with the Natal Sharks.

He also headed up the defence team in the widely publicised fraud, theft and corruption case of Piet Meyer, the former boss of KwaZulu-Natal's organised crime unit. Meyer was acquitted last month.

Asked what he does in his spare time, Kemp said he spends his weekends working on the cases he is handling.

What remains to be seen is how he will play the cards - dealt to him from the bottom of the pack - by an uncompromising prosecution led by De Beer and Judge Van der Merwe, who has more than 40 years' accumulated judicial wisdom.