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Thu Jul 31 13:29:42 SAST 2014

Former crime reporter in hot seat as global gaze turns to courtroom GD

Wernet Swart | 02 March, 2014 00:12
File photo.
Judge Masipa is known in legal circles for being "100% thorough" and "conscientious".

Judge Thokozile Masipa is known in legal circles for being 100% thorough.

She is the person Oscar Pistorius will hope to convince of his innocence when his trial starts tomorrow in courtroom GD on the ground floor of the High Court in Pretoria.

Whereas much is known about Pistorius - and even about the night of the killing - the same cannot be said of the 66-year-old presiding judge.

First appointed to the bench in 1998, Masipa is known in legal circles for being "100% thorough" and "conscientious".

"She is not a dazzler, she does not shine, she's not brilliant, but she's steadfast and worthy," said a senior advocate.

"She works incredibly hard. She crosses all her t's and dots all her i's. She was probably the student who always got all the prizes for working the hardest."

A 2008 documentary and a transcript of Masipa's interview before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for a position at the Constitutional Court in 2003 provide a glimpse into the life of a woman who adores children - and who appears somewhat suspicious of the media.

Masipa, appointed to the Transvaal division of the high court 16 years ago, became the second black woman on the bench after former Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro.

Surprisingly, prior to entering the legal profession Masipa worked as a reporter, which included a stint at The Sowetan newspaper.

Her career in journalism no doubt gave her some insight into how the media works.

Ironically, Masipa will now deliberate one of the most sensational criminal trials South Africa has seen under the glare of cameras in her court.

In her JSC interview, she said judges had to be more open and make themselves available to explain court decisions and processes to the public. Masipa also agreed when asked whether judges should take part in TV and radio debates.

She had no involvement in the court ruling that allowed for limited audio and visual coverage of the Pistorius trial.

Asked by the late former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson whether there should be meetings between judges and the media, Masipa said: "I definitely think so because what people are exposed to in the media is fiction. It is not what really happens in court ... it might be a very good idea to meet with the media because they are ... the people who can convey the truth to the public."

In the documentary on women judges, called Courting Justice, Masipa spoke about the high expectations people, especially those from a poor background, had of judges. She said this put pressure on judges as well as added responsibility.

In the documentary she is seen singing along and clapping hands with young children at a crèche near where she grew up in Orlando East, Soweto.

Masipa grew up in a small, two-bedroom house in which she shared a bedroom with her siblings.

Once married, Masipa and her husband, Makhutla, lived in a one-room home that "served as a bedroom, bathroom, study, you name it", she told the JSC.

"During that period, I learned to interact with various people at all levels."

Last year, Masipa sentenced serial rapist Shepherd Moyo to 252 years in jail.

In her judgment, she said: "The worst in my view is that he attacked and raped the victims in the sanctity of their own homes where they thought they were safe."

The judge also dismissed former Eskom CE Jacob Maroga's claim for R85-million in compensation after he was sacked from the state-owned electricity entity. - Additional reporting by Pearlie Joubert

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Thu Jul 31 13:29:43 SAST 2014 ::