The Big Read: No way is this transformation

14 October 2014 - 02:02 By Justice Malala
YES, BUT HAVE YOU GOT BALLS? Judge Letty Molopa-Sethosa being interviewed by the JSC for a post in the North Gauteng division of the High Court
YES, BUT HAVE YOU GOT BALLS? Judge Letty Molopa-Sethosa being interviewed by the JSC for a post in the North Gauteng division of the High Court

The woman wept as she recounted her story. In front of her were the members of the Judicial Service Commission, which selects your judges.

Among them are jurists and members of parliament.

The woman, a judge in Mthatha, wept. She needed a transfer to Bhisho, also in Eastern Cape. Her circumstances are devastating and would tug at any human heart.

She told the commission that her appointment to the Mthatha bench meant that she had to leave her three children in the care of her husband in East London.

She would hear cases during the week in Mthatha and travel home at weekends. She was a migrant worker.

Her oldest child is about to write matric exams, the second is nine-years-old and her youngest, aged three, has a mental disability and requires special schooling in East London.

In November her circumstances changed dramatically. Her husband was arrested for rape.

The judge told the JSC on Wednesday that the arrest, in front of her children, had left them deeply traumatised.

It is worth examining the sacrifices the judge has already made to be a judge in Mthatha. While she was still breast-feeding her youngest child, she said she would travel to and from Mthatha with her child and a nanny.

She stopped travelling with the child and nanny after she received death threats while hearing an armed robbery case.

What does a woman have to do, or say, for an official body in South Africa to listen to her with understanding and compassion? What does a woman have to go through for our society to treat her fairly and not as a nuisance?

The august members of the JSC suggested that the woman send her children to boarding school or uproot them.

When the judge tearfully told the JSC that her nine-year-old child had been so severely traumatised by witnessing her father's arrest that it would not be a great idea to pile more trauma on her by sending her to another school, that great pillar of our society, National Council of Provinces chairman Thandi Modise, said: "That will not get you any sympathy from us."

This is the same person who allowed pigs on her farm to starve to death. She now chooses our judges.

And so it was that the JSC did not grant the judge the transfer she requested.

JSC member Dumisa Ntsebeza - ordinarily a man who stands with the poor, marginalised and downtrodden - is quoted in the Mail & Guardian newspaper as saying the reason for not granting the judge her request was that she did not show "sufficient cause".

I am glad to hear that the august members of the JSC do not think such traumatic and compelling circumstances do not show "sufficient cause". What, I ask them, does a woman have to go through to show sufficient cause to be with her children - and continue to work - at a time of such trauma in her life?

Given some of the suggestions made to her - such as that she send her children to a boarding school - it is clear that the commissioners are implying that she is merely being silly, a failing they no doubt believe to be typical of women.

These are stereotypes usually used by sexist structures of power to discriminate against women. Essentially this judge should "be a man" and "deal with the situation", the JSC seems to be saying.

I have argued in the past that our idea of transformation in South Africa is warped and dangerous. The JSC is filled with people such as Modise, Mathole Motshekga, Julius Malema, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and others. They are black. So we say that we are transforming the JSC.

This is absolute balderdash. My question is: are they progressive? Do they display the values that I would like to see reflected in my society?

Do they understand that transformation does not mean just stuffing the bench with black people but ensuring that the values embedded in our constitution are honoured by the people who hold these positions?

Steve Biko once said: "In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift- a more human face."

The past week was an indictment of the JSC. Faced with a chance to display ubuntu (humanity), the JSC showed that it is nothing but a body that continues the sexist, macho, compassion-less practices of our recent past.

It failed not just itself and the people of South Africa but the mandate that our people have given it - to put a more human face on the law, on the courts, and on our new South Africa.

The woman wept. The commissioners hardened their hearts.

What does a woman have to do in this country to be treated as a human being and humanely?