The judge’s wit and his love for tea

2013-03-10 10:00

Retired judge Ian Farlam is the man tasked with unravelling exactly what happened on that fateful August day.

The Rustenburg Civic Centre’s auditorium burst into laughter the other day from one of retired Judge Ian Farlam’s wise cracks.

The 73-year-old presides over the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, which is probing circumstances that led to the deaths of 44 people who were killed during a violent strike by Lonmin mine workers in August last year.

He has the difficult task of dealing with mountains of documents in evidence, intervening in heated cross-examinations and calling overzealous lawyers to order.

Not only that, the septuagenarian has to balance the serious task of unravelling the truth behind the killings with a show of empathy to the survivors, witnesses and relatives of the dead who often sit quietly in the second and third rows.

While judges are known, even feared, for their stern, no-nonsense approach, Farlam has proven in the six months since the commission commenced its proceedings, that he packs a mean sense of humour.

He has a way of livening up the often sombre and tense mood during proceedings with punchy comments, like the other day when he responded to Association of Mining and Construction Union lawyer Heidi Barnes.

Farlam had asked Barnes if she was going to conduct cross-examination of a witness in the absence of Advocate Tim Bruinders. “Chair,” Barnes responded, “you’ll be happy to hear that we have no questions for this witness.”

Farlam leaned forward towards the microphone, feigning seriousness in his response.

“I don’t know that I’m happy to hear that?.?.?.” he said, causing a ripple of laughter among the lawyers and audience.

He turned to Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, who represents families of the deceased mine workers who were killed by police on August 16, asking if he was ready to cross-examine.

“You’ll be happy to hear, Mr Chairman, that I will cross-examine now,” Ntsebeza replied.

And there, Farlam went at it again with a wise crack. “So my happiness is caused by two almost contradictory causes,” he said, to more laughter.

But when he needs to be firm and strict, he delivers his harsh words with the deadly force of a knobkerrie.

Like the other day, when he had one of his many bust-ups with Advocate Dali Mpofu, the legal aid for the more than 300 mine workers who were injured and detained on August 16.

Farlam was irked by Mpofu’s long-winded manner of posing questions during cross-examination of National Union of Mineworkers’ president, Senzeni Zokwana.

“Mr Mpofu,” Farlam fired, “there’s no need to make a speech before you ask your question. Just ask the question, please.”

Mpofu argued that he was trying to create context for the benefit of the witness, Zokwana. But Farlam would have none of it.

“Mr Mpofu, this is a waste of time. This commission costs a lot of money every day,” he said.

Recently, he laid into witness Mzoxolo Magidiwana, who lost it during cross-examination, banging his hand irritably on the table and even calling police lawyer Vuyani Ngalwana a liar.

“Behave yourself and respect this commission,” Farlam reprimanded the young man, who appeared taken aback by the reaction of the chairperson who had patiently intervened in trying to help him answer questions.

At one point, when Magidiwana insisted on being the one who asked the questions, Farlam told him: “Don’t waste our time on irrelevancies?.?.?.”

Another witness, Siphethe Phatsha, also felt Farlam’s wrath when he refused to answer questions during cross-examination.

Farlam laid into him like a school master reprimanding a pupil, telling him to get on with the business of answering questions and stop wasting time.

Farlam, who was born in Cape Town on June 14 1939, loves his tea.

At almost 11am, without fail, you’ll see him glance at his watch and interrupt proceedings to enquire if it would be the right moment to take a tea break.

The same process repeats itself at 3pm, on the dot.

The man, it seems, just loves his tea.

Born Ian Gordon Farlam, he matriculated at the Christian Brothers College in Cape Town in 1956. He holds BA and LLB degrees from the University of Cape Town.

He was a member of the Cape Bar for more than 25 years, from February 1968 to September 1993, and was approved as senior counsel in 1981.

He served as a judge in the then Orange Free State provincial division and the Cape provincial division until he acted as a judge of appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein, Free State.

He was permanently appointed to the SCA in December 2000.

The father of four is interested in history and serves as a member on the council of the nation’s oldest historical society, the Van Riebeeck Society.

He was involved in setting up the Judicial Service Commission’s subcommittee on judicial education, of which he was the convenor.

He also serves as a member of the editorial board of the South African Law Journal.

Even as you read this, the retired judge could be having a cup of tea?.?.?.

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