Madondo goes from farm labourer to judge

2015-10-08 18:41
Mjabuliseni Madondo. (Jenni Evans, News24)

Mjabuliseni Madondo. (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - Ten cents a day. That was what KwaZulu-Natal High Court judge Mjabuliseni Madondo once earned as a farm labourer before he went on to study law and worked his way up to the bench.

It was for this reason that Madondo, who is applying for the post of deputy judge president in KwaZulu-Natal, felt passionately about the plight of farm workers and the poor, who are often unable to take their disputes to court.

In many cases these litigants would lose because they were not properly represented, or could not understand the language spoken in court.

Living an isolated life with other farm workers and tenants at the farm in Msinga, near Greytown, where he was raised, Madondo told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that while there, he only knew about customary and traditional laws.

He recounted how he had lived on a diet of mielie meal and gruel and how he used the bark of a tree for a spoon because he did not have a metal one. The closest "town" was a village far away, he said.

Outsiders were not allowed to enter the property and so it was only when he left the farm that he first learnt about the Western concept of law.

He believed that if the needs of people in tribal and traditional areas were taken into account more, it would benefit people who "never thought the sun would ever shine on them".

For starters, interpreters needed ongoing training because they often did not represent a person properly.

"In Zulu one word can mean five different things," he said, adding that sometimes a judge was better off being conversant in the language of the accused, otherwise there could be a miscarriage of justice.

He was described as a "true son of Africa" in one of his nomination forms which mentions his farm labour work in 1967 and garden labour in 1971.

His CV was packed with memberships of organisations, and also included periods as an advocate, his time as an acting judge, and then a High Court judge since 2007.

But in spite of the glowing reports from peers in his nomination forms, JSC Commissioner and EFF leader Julius Malema asked Madondo if he did not think he was too old for the post as he was in his early sixties.

"I have an appointment with the future and I need to build it now," he said, asking whether Madondo was up to the task.

Madondo politely responded, "One may be young in limb, but old in mind. We are old [but] we have... young ideas."

Read more on:    jsc  |  julius malema  |  judiciary

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