/ 2 February 2023

Judge Mahube Molemela to head supreme court of appeal

Ed 373582
Mahube Molemela told the Judicial Service Commission that she was ready to retire as president of the supreme court of appeal, should she be appointed, rather than seek promotion to the constitutional court. Photo: Supplied

President Cyril Ramaphosa has nominated Justice Mahube Molemala to become the next president of the supreme court of appeal (SCA), filling the vacancy created when he named Justice Mandisa Maya deputy chief justice.

Molemela will be the second woman to head the appellate court, which she joined in mid-2018.

Before that, she was the judge president of the Free State. She was also the second woman in the country to serve as judge president of a provincial division, and is the only member of the SCA who has held that position. She was first appointed to the bench in 2008.

Judges Matter, an organisation that monitors the judiciary and does research into judicial governance, welcomed the nomination and noted that Molemala had been commended for her stable leadership of the Free State high court.

“I think Molemela is an inspired choice when you consider what would be the typical criteria of leadership in the judiciary, which includes a leadership track record and jurisprudential or intellectual leadership,” said Mbekezeli Benjamin, the transparency group’s research and advocacy officer.

“At the SCA, she has written a streak of dissenting judgments, a few of which have been upheld by the Concourt.”

These included Morudi and others v NC Housing Services and Development Co and others, which concerned the rights of shareholders in a company in the Northern Cape who argued that they had been denied their right of access to court.

Molemela has acted on the constitutional court, and served as a judge on the labour appeal court and the competition appeal court.

She was one of five judges nominated by the Judicial Service Commission for appointment to the apex court in 2021, of whom Ramaphosa eventually appointed justices Jody Kollapen and Rammaka Mathopo. She was again nominated in 2022, when the president appointed Justice Owen Rogers.

Her nomination to become president of the SCA follows four months after Maya left the court to become deputy chief justice, and there had been some impatience in the legal community for Ramaphosa to announce his choice.

Judges Matter said it was “a cause for some concern” that once Molemela is appointed, she and KwaZulu-Natal Judge President Thoba Poyo-Dlwati will be the only two women to hold permanent head of court positions in the judiciary.

“It means that only two women will sit on the 14-member heads of court forum, a body responsible for taking important decisions in the judiciary.”

About 40% of judges are women.

“Judges Matter therefore calls on the leadership of the judiciary and the Judicial Service Commission to take urgent steps to bring more women onto the decision-making table.”