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Race takes centre stage at JSC interview

PHILANI NOMBEMBE | 2011-10-20 00:48:09.0

Race took centre stage at a Judicial Service Commission interview of three candidates for the position of KwaZulu-Natal judge president - one saying that an Indian should not be given the job.

During his interview yesterday, Judge Isaac Madondo told the commissioners that he did not think an Indian candidate would be suitable to fill the position.

When IFP MP Koos van der Merwe asked him if it was time to appoint an Indian judge president, Madondo replied, without hesitation: "I don't think so . we still have things to address, imbalances, all kinds of things which need more insight, which a person who is not [a black] African cannot be privy to.

"We were oppressed, but not in the same way," he said, adding that African lawyers were not given the same opportunities as their Indian counterparts.

Indians only represented 8% of the population, while 86% of the population was black, said Madondo.

His comments were made on the day that ANC Youth League president Julius Malema used the word amaKula, an extremely derogatory term, to refer to Indians at a meeting in Thembelihle, near Lenasia, south of Johannesburg.

Exactly a week before the DA's parliamentary leadership election, a black DA MP described the candidacy of Lindiwe Mazibuko as "window dressing", saying her election would "defeat the DA's objective of trying to attract black votes".

Madondo was appointed to the bench in 2007 and has the backing of three judges in his division.

After Madondo's interview, Judge Lusindiso Pakade, the Deputy Judge President of Eastern Cape, took the hot seat. He was followed by the Acting Judge President of KwaZulu-Natal, Chiman Patel.

Patel has the backing of 14 judges of the KwaZulu-Natal division.

During Patel's interview, Dumisa Ntsebeza, a member of the JSC, noted that the Black Lawyers' Association in Pietermaritzburg had voiced concerns about the possibility of Patel being appointed.

"There is a fear that, once you become judge president, there will be less invitation for Africans to come to that bench because your inclination will be to bring in acting judges of Indian descent," said Ntsebeza.

In response, Patel read a letter from members of the Black Lawyers' Association in support of his candidacy when he was in the running for the position last year.

Patel said most of the acting judges recently appointed to the court were blacks.

He gave a breakdown of the racial composition of the bench that he had been in charge of since April.

More than 67.7% of the judges were men and 33.3% women; 29.2% are white, 8.3% are coloured, 29.2% are Indian and the majority, a third, are black.

Patel, a former lecturer of the then University of Natal, once taught Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

Van der Merwe asked him whether he thought it was time for an Indian judge to take the reins in the province.

"That person must be appointed if he has the ability to provide leadership. If he hasn't, he mustn't be appointed. But if he has the qualities of a leader and is able to head the division then, yes," he said.

"My colleagues feel I have that. I have good interpersonal relationships. I don't have any difficulties."

Van der Merwe noted that Patel spoke a little Afrikaans. He jokingly asked whether he had been approached to be a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond.

"I think the melanin in my skin discounted me," Patel replied.

Judge Pakade, on the other hand, was quizzed about whether his ethnic background could be a hindrance in KwaZulu-Natal.

"If you are appointed, Judge Pakade, there might be some of your colleagues in KwaZulu-Natal who look at you as an outsider, someone who is basically imposed on them by the JSC in as much as you are not a permanent judge in KwaZulu-Natal," said Cape Judge President John Hlophe. "My question is simply this: Have you thought of how you would go about bringing some kind of reconciliation so that colleagues buy into you and respect you as their judge president who has been legitimately appointed to take over?"

Pakade said he would win their trust by, among other things, calling regular meetings "to know each other and enhance collegiality" as is the norm in Eastern Cape.

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