Women blazing a trail

2013-10-14 00:00

DURBAN’S magistrates were “over the moon” on Friday that one of their own, Somaganthie Naidoo, is set to become the first district court magistrate in KwaZulu-Natal to be appointed a judge.

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has recommended to President Jacob Zuma that Naidoo, and prominent Pietermaritzburg advocate Igna Stretch, be appointed judges.

Naidoo has been recommended for appointment to the Bloemfontein high court in the Free State.

Stretch has been recommended for appointment to the high court at Bisho in the Eastern Cape.

Stretch has a daughter at university, and is in a permanent life partnership with Judge Rob Griffiths of the Eastern Cape division.

She told The Witness that at her interview the JSC had placed emphasis on her handling (as an acting judge) of the high- profile trial of rapist Avelo Tuswa (25) in Pietermaritzburg.

Stretch sentenced Tuswa to life imprisonment last November for the rape of an 82-year-old woman who suffered grievous injuries.

“They made it clear they were looking for a judge who is prepared to stand up against sexual abuse and disrespect of women,” she said.

Stretch started her own practice as an advocate in Pietermaritzburg in 1999, and sat as an acting judge in KZN for the first time in 2001.

She became the first woman to take silk at the Pietermaritzburg Bar in June 2011.

Stretch studied law through Unisa and the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg.

Her curriculum vitae reveals that she funded her studies by working part time as a secretary and bookkeeper.

During holidays she also worked in the industrial relations department at Vryheid Coronation Colliery. During this time she compiled the labour law handbook for the National Union of Mineworkers.

Before studying law full time in 1985 Stretch dabbled in journalism and was employed as a senior reporter, journeyman and editor on the Vryheid Gazette.

After graduating from university, Stretch joined the Justice Department as a prosecutor in the magistrate’s court and later became a state advocate, before deciding to go into private practice in 1999.

Naidoo told The Witness on Friday she is looking forward to taking up her appointment in Bloemfontein if the President accepts the JSC’s recommendation.

“The magistrates here [in Durban] are going crazy, they are so happy for me,” she said.

Naidoo said it is the first time a district court magistrate in KZN was nominated for appointment to the Bench, although regional court magistrates have been appointed as judges in the past.

Naidoo is a mother of two. Her daughter is a pharmacist and her son is employed as a school sports co-ordinator.

Her husband, Colin, is a principal at a primary school in Tongaat, where they currently reside.

“I’ve lived in Durban the entire 56 years of my life,” said Naidoo.

She studied law at the then University of Durban Westville, and started out on her legal career as an attorney.

She worked in the prosecution service from 1992 to 1998.

She became a senior magistrate in 2002, and currently holds the post of deputy chief magistrate in Durban.

Naidoo has been an acting judge in KwaZulu-Natal periodically since 2005.

She say her main focus during her career has been on civil law, although she has experience in criminal law as well.

Naidoo believes gender transformation of the judiciary is important. She is currently deputy president of the SA Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges.

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