Judge tells JSC about husband’s arrest for rape

2014-10-08 18:00

Niren Tolsi

Gender issues took centre stage at the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) interviews today as a female judge poured her heart out in an honest, unflinching interview.

Current judge Nozuko Mjali opened up to the commission about how her three children had been “traumatised” by witnessing their father’s arrest for rape last year.

Cebo Macingwane has been charged with raping the family’s 23-year-old domestic worker at their East London home while Mjali was away in Mthatha, where she holds a seat.

Mjali told commissioners she’d applied for the single vacancy on the Eastern Cape High Court, which sits in Bhisho, because she wanted to be closer to her children.

She told the commission that she wanted the transfer to “strike a balance between my work and my children”.

She said her nine-year-old was “traumatised by my absence, she was traumatised by the arrest and she didn’t eat food for three days afterwards”.

Mjali added that she had, a few weeks ago, stopped commuting weekly with her autistic three-year-old child between East London and Mthatha because of death threats linked to another case she was hearing.

“I weaned him off my breast only two weeks ago,” she said, adding that she was concerned about the child’s safety.

Her 17-year-old son is completing Grade 12 in East London.

Mjali said she had “survived” the last year with “the hope for the [judge’s rotational] roster to place me closer to East London” and by swapping duties with willing colleagues who were posted closer to her home.

But the commissioners chose not to fill the high court vacancy.

Commission spokesperson CP Fourie said “good cause must be shown” for a judge’s transfer within a provincial division and that the commission decided Mjali had failed in this regard.

The commission has previously been reluctant to sanction transfers within a division, fearing that rural and less glamorous courts will be bled dry of skills.

Their decision angered some.

Alison Tilley, who heads up advocacy at the Open Democracy Advice Centre which is part of the Judges Matter coalition, said the decision was “extraordinary” and “showed the extent to which the system is willingly inflexible when it comes too female judges”.

“This is a question about judges and primary care-givers and women and the reasonable obligations of the state as an employer to keep women as judges … It seems the JSC will let you be a judge, but only if you behave like a man,” said Tilley.

The commission has been criticised in recent years over its inability to ensure faster gender transformation in the judiciary.

At recent sittings commissioners have made more in-depth enquiries about the challenges women face within the legal fraternity, expressed concern about the small pool of female judicial candidates and recommended only the second female judge president, Mahuba Molemela, for appointment to head the Free State division yesterday.

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