Julius Malema during day four of the JSC interviews.
Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema, a commissioner at the Judicial Service Commission, on Thursday raised the spectre of the “Indian question” in KwaZulu-Natal during interviews taking place in Cape Town for the vacant deputy judge president position in that division.
When quizzing high court Judge Shyam Gyanda, the first of four candidates vying for the position, Malema said that “in the context of KZN, where we have an ‘Indian question’ particularly, the Africans feel Indians are dominating life in every sphere”, including business and the legal sector.
He asked Gyanda, the most senior member of the KwaZulu-Natal Bench and a candidate for the position, whether transformation imperatives demanded the appointment of a black African rather than an Indian?
Gyanda said that “if Indians are progressing, should they be penalised for working harder and longer?” His response led to a heated exchange between Gyanda and Malema that explored the touchy issue of ethnicity, race and notions of Africanness.
This included Malema’s “view … that blacks were oppressed [during apartheid] but Africans were more oppressed”. This was a view another candidate being interviewed for the position, Judge Mjabuliseni Madondo, expressed four years ago when interviewed by the commission for the position of KwaZulu-Natal high court judge president – a response for which he was heavily criticised.
At the time – as on Thursday – the exchange laid bare simmering racial tensions in the division. In 2011, the furore during the interview had been preceded by an unsigned letter written by the Black Lawyers Association Pietermaritzburg branch, which had accused then-candidate and eventual KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Chiman Patel of being an “anti-Black African” racist. The commission ignored the letter.
Gyanda later said: “I am an African. I was born in Africa, my parents were born in Africa, why should I be called an Indian when I am an African? Why should I be called an Indian because I am of Asiatic descent?”
During Madondo’s more than two hour-long interview on Thursday – the longest during this week’s round of interviews – he was asked by Inkatha Freedom Party MP and commissioner Narend Singh to comment on having been nominated by two Indians from the KwaZulu-Natal legal fraternity. Madondo said: “That shows that what I am doing, people observe and they see a future for me.”
The KwaZulu-Natal division has 12 black African judges, three coloured judges, seven white judges and seven Indian judges at present.