Judge’s comments in eviction case pushes fisheries department to request his recusal

The department of agriculture, forestry and fisheries has requested that the judge president of the high court in Cape Town urgently remove acting Judge Leslie Weinkove from their case concerning fishing quotas for poor communities. 

The request follows comments Weinkove reportedly made in court on Wednesday in a separate case.

The attorney representing the fisheries department, Barnabas Xulu, sent the letter on Wednesday. The letter was addressed to Judge President John Hlophe, but was also sent to Weinkove and other interested parties.

In the letter, Xulu said the department had requested that Weinkove be recused because of his comments about residents evicted from Bromwell Street in Woodstock, near Cape Town’s inner city.

“We apologise in advance for addressing this letter to you at this stage, but we have been instructed to do so by our clients,” the attorney wrote to Hlophe.

The Bromwell residents were in court to dispute the city’s attempts to move some of them to emergency accommodation in a settlement known as Wolwerivier, nearly 30km away from the city.

According to media reports, Weinkove seemed flummoxed by the Bromwell residents’ application because some of the tenants are unemployed. Members of the department first came across the comments in a News24 article.

“What’s the point of being near a school? What’s the point of them being near transport? Where are they going to go?” Judge Weinkove was quoted as saying by News24.

Xulu says the department found these comments to be a violation of the Constitution.

“Our client is extremely concerned about these comments. In our client’s view, these comments are inappropriate to be made by a judge. They are inconsistent with the ethos of the Constitution,” Xulu wrote.

These are the comments made by Weinkove, as reported by News24, that concerned the department and which Xulu quotes in his letter:

“What’s her name? Charnell? She is a kitchen assistant in Observatory and now she’s an expert.”

“She doesn’t know what the budget of the city council is; she doesn’t know what money they get … She doesn’t know this stuff, she is a kitchen assistant.”

“Wolwerivier is at Dunoon, where my parents had a farm … They have that nice MyCiti bus route – so it’s not an area that’s isolated”

Xulu said the department’s case concerns fishing quotas and the applicant in the matter, Viking Shore, is arguing that it is “inappropriate” to allocate fishing licences to poor communities partly because of their “alleged lack of technical abilities”.

The case relates to transformation in the fishing sector and Xulu suggested in the letter that the judge may not fairly preside over the matter because his comments in the eviction case contradict the Constitution’s commitment to transformation and equality.

“The important fact is that the judge’s comments (if correctly reported) reflect a particular bias, which is against the values of the Constitution,” Xulu wrote.

The case is scheduled to be heard on February 6. Xulu said the department would, in due course, also lodge a complaint against Weinkove at the Judicial Services Commission.

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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