Judge Anton Steenkamp who died after black mamba bite remembered: 'We've lost a truly remarkable judge'

2019-05-29 16:00
Judge Anton Steenkamp's memorial service held at the Labour Court in Johannesburg.  (Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

Judge Anton Steenkamp's memorial service held at the Labour Court in Johannesburg. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24)

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Former Cape Town Labour Court Judge Anton Steenkamp, who died after a black mamba bit him while he was on holiday in Zambia, was remembered at an emotional memorial service at the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday.  

The 57-year-old and his wife Catherine were touring the country when the snake bit him earlier in May. He was cremated in Zambia's capital Lusaka.   

During the memorial service, colleagues expressed the loss to the judiciary as a result of Steenkamp's death.

"I think I am the lawyer that I am today because of the words that Anton said to me," Mabaeng Lenyai of the Law Society said.

She said she met Steenkamp when she was a candidate attorney in the early 90s.

"One of his candidate attorneys was my friend and during break, we went to her office to have tea. During those times in the early 90s, things were very difficult for a young black attorney…"

While she was waiting for her friend, Steenkamp approached her and asked: "Why are you standing here unsure of yourself?"

He asked who Lenyai was meeting with.

"At that time, I was so scared of him and I even forgot [what] my friend's name was. So he said to me: 'Now that you don't even know who you are going to see, I am going for tea. Would you like to join me?'

"There is one thing that he said to me. He said: 'You must find a passion in law in you, follow it, pursue it, and be the best lawyer that you can be. Make a difference so that wherever you go, people when they remember you, they smile.' And he had a smile on his face and I never saw him again after that.

"He kept in touch with me, phoning and checking where I am but I have never seen him ever again after that cup of tea. I have no words to describe the loss, but the profession and the judiciary has suffered."

Chris Mamathuntsha of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) said Steenkamp represented the post- apartheid judges that the BLA wished to see.

"As we move into a new era of respect for constitutionalism, as an organisation, we are grappling with transformation, especially in the judiciary.

He added that the BLA hoped that thorough Steenkamp's judgments, his legacy would live on. 

Ludwig Frahm-Arp, president of the South African Society for Labour Law said they had lost a "truly remarkable" judge.

"Judge Steenkamp will be sorely missed," he said.

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