JSC recommends seven women for Bench

Seeking to fill 10 judicial vacancies the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Thursday recommended seven women and two males for President Jacob Zuma to appoint to various positions on the Bench.

Mmakgare Shai, who was the sole candidate for a position at the Labour Court, was not recommended.

Controversy has swirled around the processes and thinking behind recent recommendations made by the JSC, especially as the need for racial and gender transformation of the Bench has become a hot topic in legal circles and in broader society. This round of appointments appear a response of sorts from the sometimes much-maligned commission.

Soma Naidoo was picked for a position at the high court Free State, edging out four other candidates, including attorney Jamela Mhlambi, who JSC spokesperson Dumisa Ntsebeza described as a "very, very serious contender".

Ntsebeza said the commission had considered that the Free State Bench had 13 judges with one "Indian female", four "African male judges" and four "white judges" of which one was female and had decided, in the interests of "broad representivity" to appoint Naidoo, who was an able candidate, "after lengthy deliberations".

The commission recommended Sejopotje Mpahlele and advocates Maria Jansen and Nicoline Janse Van Nieuwenhuizen to the high courts in Pretoria and Johannesburg. The sole male picked for that division was advocate Albert Bam, who had been acting in the Gauteng division for almost four years and had appeared before the JSC on four previous occasions.

Describing Bam as a "workhorse", Ntsebeza joked that he was "ageing but refuses to go away". Bam, who is recovering from a crippling viral attack on his nervous system in 2009, said he had found it "more stimulating" working on the Bench, rather than remaining in private practice and had assured the commission that neither his health nor his age were deterrents from doing his job.

'Overwhelming support'
There had, according to Ntsebeza, been "overwhelming support" for the recommendation of advocate Igna Stretch to be appointed to the high court in Bhisho. Stretch, who had bested two male candidates, Mziwonke Hinxa and Phumzile Majeke, said she had been working on a programme to encourage the development of female lawyers by visiting schools to speak about the profession and her experiences in it, and was also organising a bursary project for underprivileged girls to study law.

Sungaree Pather was recommended for an Electoral Court position while Judge Pule Tlaletsi, the other male in this round of appointments, was recommended for the position of deputy judge president of the Labour Court.

In the tightest contest of the week, Nolwazi Boqwana edged out three female candidates, Kate Savage and advocates Roseline Nyman and Diane Davis for a single position on the high court Cape Town Bench.

Tabeth Masengu, a researcher at the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit based at the University of Cape Town, said "the candidates were all intellectually apt, highy competent, experienced and very good orators. I was also pleased by the fact that all these women proved doubters wrong. Those who would argue that there are no capable women would have been put to shame.

"Those who feel that judging should be left to advocates only because they have the skill would have begrudgingly admitted that the attorneys on display proved in their interview, judgments and comments from the General Council of the Bar that they too can stand up and be counted."

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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