/ 11 October 2019

High court adds more women judges

Judge: Sylvia Daniso had to learn early on how to combat gender discrimination.
Judge: Sylvia Daniso had to learn early on how to combat gender discrimination. (Oupa Nkosi/Judges Matter)



Sylvia Daniso’s father made the mistake of taking her along to meet his boss when he was applying for one of the university scholarships offered by the company for employees’ children.

“You can’t take a girl to university. She won’t manage. And before the end of the year, she will come home pregnant,” the employer said.

Daniso was on Tuesday recommended for appointment as a judge of the high court in Bloemfontein. It was, overall, a good day for the appointment of women to the Bench, with both of the vacancies in the Western Cape high court also going to women — Deidre Kusevitsky and Hayley Slingers.

Gender transformation remains a preoccupation for the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The Constitution requires the JSC to consider the need for the judiciary to broadly reflect South Africa’s population in terms of race and gender when making appointments.

Although progress has been made on race, the pace of change has been slower when it comes to putting more women on the Bench.

The stories related by the women candidates on Tuesday illustrated how directly racism and gender discrimination in the profession affects appointments to the Bench.

The 2018-19 annual report of the judiciary — released last week — said that at the high court in Cape Town, 12 out 32 judges were women. At the Free State division, six of the 15 judges were women.

Daniso said that her father had been forced to take the scholarship as a loan. Then, when she became an attorney, potential clients would come into the office, look at her, look around and ask, “Where is Mr Moyana [my maiden name]?”

When Daniso was appointed as a district magistrate, almost all of her civil law judgments were taken on appeal. This is where she “sharpened” her skills and learnt to write good judgments, she said.

The quality of her judgment-writing was praised by commissioners, including Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya.

Ilse van Rhyn, one of the unsuccessful candidates for the Free State division, described how she had been forced to leave the Bar because the Legal Aid Board, for which she did most of her work in those early days, took more than a year to pay her. She couldn’t get into more debt, she said.

When asked why she always had to be “nudged” and “persuaded” to put herself forward to act as a judge and for appointment, van Rhyn said that she was always conscious of being “one of the ones that didn’t make it at the Bar”.

Kusevitsky said that, at the Cape Bar, the attrition rate for young black and women advocates was “quite frightening”.

She said that she had been on the verge of leaving the Bar because she was not managing when she had bumped into Thabani Masuku SC at the mall.

After Kusevitsky confided in him, Masuku brought her into a commission of inquiry. The income from this enabled her to stay at the bar.

Slingers, responding to a question about why she had not taken silk, said that to take silk an advocate needed to have had certain opportunities, to get certain kinds of work, which she had never been given.