Magistrates who will interview in the April 2021 JSC interviews
Interview preview: current and former magistrates on the path to high judicial office
Prior to 1994, judges were only appointed from the ranks of senior counsel (advocates) at the Bar. These judges were almost exclusively white men. Today things are different. In accordance with our constitution, the judiciary is required to ‘broadly reflect the racial and gender composition of South Africa’. To accomplish this end, the pool from which judicial candidates could be drawn had to be expanded, to include attorneys, law academics and magistrates.
From April 12th – 23rd 2021, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) will interview 88 candidates for judicial positions in the superior courts of South Africa. These interviews will take place in Johannesburg, and will be live streamed on the Judges Matter website.
In this article, we preview some of the current and former magistrates (ore members of the Magistrates Commission) shortlisted for interview in the April 2021 sitting of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
In the Supreme Court of Appeal
The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) is widely considered ‘tough’ and extremely demanding. Its judges (including acting judges) usually rise from the ranks of the most seasoned judges of the High Court. There have been relatively few of the SCA’s current or former judges who have made the transition from magistrate, to high court judge, to SCA judge. Of the currently sitting SCA judges, only Justice Baratang ‘Connie’ Mocumie (appointed 2016) and Justice Fikile Mokgohloa (appointed 2019) were formerly magistrates.
In the upcoming April 2021 interviews, of the 10 candidates shortlisted for vacancies within the SCA, only Judge Zeenat Carelse has held the position of magistrate. Judge Carelse was appointed to the Gauteng Division of the High Court in 2009, based in Johannesburg. Her permanent appointment as a judge followed a year-long acting stint. Before her appointment, she served as a public prosecutor, a district magistrate, senior magistrate and regional magistrate in the Western Cape and Gauteng.
Leadership positions in the judiciary: Deputy Judges President
The April 2021 interviews will also be addressing 5 deputy judge president vacancies, at several courts across the country. Former magistrates, who now serve as judges, feature on the April 2021 shortlist for Free State, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.
Free State High Court, Bloemfontein
The position of deputy judge president for the Free State, became vacant in 2018 when current Judge President Cagney Musi, himself an ex-magistrate, was promoted. Three candidates have been shortlisted for the position: two black women and a white man. One is a former magistrate, Judge Soma Naidoo.
Judge Soma Naidoo
A native of Durban, Judge Somaganthie ‘Soma’ Naidoo is shortlisted for the position of deputy judge president of the Free State High Court, where she has been a judge since 2014. Immediately prior to her elevation as a judge, she served fifteen years as a magistrate in Durban. In a legal career that began in 1980, she has practiced as an attorney, a corporate legal advisor, a prosecutor and a part-time lecturer in company law and administration.
Limpopo High Court, Polokwane and Thohoyandou
The race for the second-in-command of the Limpopo Division of the High Court is one of the hottest to watch out for in this round of interviews. The two male contenders for the post, have both made previous application for the role. The new contender on the block is the only woman in that court.
The Limpopo shortlist is the also the only one, to feature two former magistrates: Judge Thifembilu Mudau and Judge Violet Semenya.
Judge Thifembilu Mudau
Although Judge Thifembilu Mudau is running for Limpopo DJP as a native son of the province, he has in fact been a judge of the Gauteng Division of the High Court since 2016, based in Johannesburg. His permanent appointment followed numerous acting stints over a four period.
Prior to his elevation, Judge Mudau had a long career as a magistrate, beginning in Thohoyandou, in 1987. Through the years, he rose through the ranks to become head of the civil section, regional magistrate, senior magistrate (Johannesburg), sub-cluster head, and control regional magistrate (Randburg). He also served briefly as a prosecutor.
Judge Violet Semenya
Appointed in 2017, Judge Matsaro Violet Semenya is the “newest” member of the Limpopo High Court bench. She is also the only woman. Prior to her elevation, Judge Semenya served a total of 26 years as a magistrate. Serving as head of the Mokerong District Court, senior magistrate in Seshego (with courts in Bochum and Mokopane reporting to her) and 12 years as a regional magistrate in Mokerong. She was a prosecutor for a brief period.
Mpumalanga High Court, Mbombela and Middelburg
In a head-to-head matchup, two black women are running for the post of deputy judge president of the Mpumalanga High Court. One of them is ex-magistrate Judge Shane Kgoele and the other is Judge Segopotje Mphahele.
Judge Shane Kgoele
Judge Anna Maleshane ‘Shane’ Kgoele has been based in Mafikeng as a member of the North West High Court bench, since 2009. After enjoying the breathtaking scenery of Mpumalanga, she relocated to the province and became a judge there in 2019. Judge Kgoele started her legal career as a prosecutor, in 1988. In 1991 she joined the magistracy, where she has served in various roles including district magistrate, senior magistrate, a magistrate-lecturer and regional magistrate. She spent a year acting as a judge in 2008, before being appointed permanently in 2009.
Magistrates seeking elevation to the High Court
Several current and former magistrates have put their names forward for appointment to the high courts around the country, including in the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, North West, Mpumalanga, and the Western Cape.
Eastern Cape High Court, Mthatha
Advocate Nceba Dukada SC
Few people will remember, but esteemed Advocate Nceba Dukada SC was once (albeit briefly) an assistant magistrate in Mthatha, Eastern Cape. He now seeks permanent appointment as a judge, and is the only candidate shortlisted for the District. His magisterial stint only lasted one year. The bulk of his career has been spent as an advocate at the Mthatha and Johannesburg bars, where he was awarded senior counsel or ‘silk’ status in 2005.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria and Johannesburg
With 13 candidates, the Gauteng shortlist is the longest of the April 2021 round of interviews. Six spots are up for grabs. On that list, are two magistrates: Mr Dario Dosio and Ms Mashudu Munzhelele.
Mr Dario Dosio
Mr Dario Dosio has been a magistrate since 1996. He began his career in the district criminal courts, before being promoted to regional magistrate in Soweto. He currently serves as civil regional magistrate in Johannesburg. But has, for the past 9 years, served as acting judge in the Gauteng Division of the High Court on an almost annual basis.
Ms Mashudu Munzhelele
Ms Mashudu Munzhelele is accustomed to defying the odds. Confined to a wheelchair from a young age, Ms Munzhelele was able to power through law school through sheer grit and determination. She started her legal career as a candidate attorney, later becoming a district and regional prosecutor. She served as a district magistrate as of 2006, and has for the past 7 years served as regional magistrate in Sibasa. Although based in Limpopo, Ms Munzhelele has, since 2017, held several acting stints in Gauteng.
KwaZulu-Natal High Court, Durban and Pietermaritzburg
Ms Sharon Marks
Ms Sharon Marks (née Murray) has spent 35 years as a magistrate. Beginning in 1986 as an additional magistrate in Verulam, then acting regional magistrate in Durban, and finally in 1992 permanent regional magistrate. Since 2007, she has held several stints as acting regional court president for KwaZulu-Natal, a position she currently holds. And has acted as a judge on numerous occasions, beginning 2012. Ms Marks has made several previous applications for permanent appointment to the Western Cape High Court. This year she is applying against five other candidates, for one of two vacancies in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court.
North West High Court, Mafikeng
Andre Henry Peterson
In a legal career spanning nearly 30 years, Mr Andre Henry Peterson has slowly climbed the ranks of the magistrates’ courts. While completing part-time studies, Mr Peterson worked as an administration clerk in the Justice Department. Rising to public prosecutor in 1995, additional magistrate in 2000, and regional magistrate from 2010. Since 2015, he has held several acting stings as a judge, in both the high courts in Gauteng and North West, where he is one of three candidates vying for two permanent posts.
Mpumalanga High Court, Mbombela and Middelburg
The Mpumalanga High Court is quite literally, a new court. It was declared a division of the High Court in 2016, and officially opened its new building in 2019. After this round of interviews, it will officially be appointing its first crop of three permanent judges. There are seven shortlisted candidates. Three of these are current magistrates.
Mr Bruce Langa
Mr Mpopelele Bruce Langa has been the regional court president for the Western Cape since 2013. He started his legal career in 1978, as an administrative clerk with the Justice Department, while completing his studies. In 1982, he took the position of public prosecutor. Joining the magistracy in 1983, as an assistant magistrate. From here he rose through the ranks to become additional magistrate, regional magistrate and currently regional court president. Since 2017, he has held several stints as an acting judge in Gauteng, Western Cape and Mpumalanga, where he now seeks permanent appointment.
Mr Takalani Ratshibvumo
Mr Takalani Vincent Ratshibvumo is currently a regional court magistrate and editor of the SA Judicial Education Institute’s monthly newsletter. He started his legal career in 1996, as a lecturer at the University of Venda, before becoming a public prosecutor. He joined the magistracy in 2000, rising to the rank of regional magistrate in 2009. Since 2013, he has held several acting stints as a judge in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, where he now seeks permanent appointment. Mr Ratshibvumo is perhaps most well-known for his activism in the legal profession. He was the chairperson of the Gauteng branch of the National Union of Prosecutors of SA, the vice president and later president of the Judicial Officers Association of SA, and now sits as a national executive member of the Association of Regional Magistrates of South Africa.
Ms Lindiwe Vukeya
Of the three women shortlisted for permanent posts at the Mpumalanga High Court, Ms Lindiwe Dorothy Vukeya is the only magistrate. Ms Vukeya started her career in the legal profession in 1990 as a messenger at an attorneys’ firm. She later becoming a candidate attorney in the same firm, and then spent four years as a public prosecutor. She joined the magistracy as an additional magistrate in 2003, rising through the ranks to become head of court, and in 2015 regional magistrate. From 2016, Ms Vukeya has held several stints as an acting judge in the Gauteng High Court.
Western Cape High Court, Cape Town
Mr Daniel Mafeleu Thulare is no stranger to the JSC interview. His explosive exchange with Chief Justice Mogoeng is still on record. He returns for the April 2021 session, as the only magistrate shortlisted for a vacancy at the Western Cape High Court. Mr Thulare was elevated to the post of Chief Magistrate of Cape Town in 2016. He started his legal career as a court interpreter, later becoming a candidate attorney, and district magistrate in 1999. He is the immediate past president of the Judicial Officers Association of SA, and a member of the Magistrates Commission.
Non-magistrates who play some role in the magistracy
In this section, we preview candidates who have never been magistrates themselves but play some role in the magistracy, specifically the Magistrates Commission.
Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal
Judge Aubrey Phago Ledwaba is the Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng Division, where he runs the Pretoria High Court. He has also served as chairperson of the Magistrates Commission since 2019. Judge Ledwaba started his legal career in 1983 as a public prosecutor, becoming a candidate attorney a year later. He spent 20 years as an attorney in private practice, including running his own firm, before he became a judge in 2005 and deputy judge president in 2013. He has held acting stints in the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court, and now seeks permanent appointment to either court.
Gauteng High Court, Pretoria and Johannesburg
Advocate Cassim Ismail Moosa is the chairperson of the Ethics Committee and also spokesperson of the Magistrates Commission. He was first appointed to the Magistrates Commission in 2013, and held memberships in Legislative and Ethics committees. Mr Moosa has been an advocate in private practice for the last 28 years – and an active member of the National Bar Council of SA, the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, a lecturer with the Law Society, and part of the steering committee drafting the Legal Sector Code for Broad Based Economic Empowerment. Since 2015 he has held several stints as an acting judge in Mpumalanga and Gauteng, where he now seeks permanent appointment.
Can magistrates ‘rise through the ranks’?
The South African judiciary, like the rest of the legal profession, subscribes to strict hierarchies where one has to ‘rise through the ranks’. It is no wonder that many magistrates aspire to higher judicial office in the superior courts – and the Constitution makes this possible. It is however still not a clear pathway. As we see from the JSC’s shortlist for the April 2021, only nine of the estimated 88 candidates being interviewed have previously held the position of magistrate. Some have advocated strongly for the full implementation of the ‘single judiciary’ concept, which would likely make the path a bit clearer for magistrates to rise to higher judicial positions. Others have advocated for the opposite: that although magistrates are ‘technicians’ in presiding over judicial proceedings, not all of them are prepared for the ‘legal engineering’ required of judges. These debates rage on, and we are keen to see how they will play out at the April 2021 session of the JSC.
Judges Matter will provide full coverage of the April 2021, including profiling each of the candidates shortlisted and some of the key issues at play. For previous interviews, including candidate profiles and recordings, visit www.judgesmatter.co.za or ‘Judges Matter’ on Youtube. To keep up to date with the latest concerning the judiciary, follow us on Twitter: @WhyJudgesMatter and Facebook.