My Brilliant Career: Ex-judge uses experiencein social, political criticism

05 May 2019 - 00:01 By MARGARET HARRIS


Tell me about Justice is a Woman.
About 20 years ago, I gave a talk on whether women have a place in the law. In researching the history, I came across fascinating details about how women came to be excluded from the practice of law.
During my career as a judge, I was required to give a judgment about whether witnesses should sit in court while other witnesses give evidence. The rule that they must wait outside has long roots, based on the Old Testament story of Susannah and the Elders. The judge Daniel acquits Susannah on false charges of adultery after insisting the "witnesses" be separated before giving evidence.
Early lawyers in the 17th century relied on the biblical account when persuading judges to make witnesses wait out of earshot. After researching the topic, I wrote an article for the legal magazine De Rebus.
After writing a number of books, I decided to write a play incorporating features of the two stories. Justice is a Woman is a highly emotive production, highlighting issues of gender inequality and the ethical dilemmas of the justice system. It is directed by Paul Spence, formerly of the Royal Shakespeare Company UK, and stars a richly talented South African cast.
Set in a KwaZulu-Natal university in 2018, after the 2,000-year exclusion of women as lawyers in the courtroom, it tells the story of a female postgraduate student's molestation case against her male university professor. Lead character Portia, the lawyer representing the professor, is faced with an ethical dilemma that forces her to question her values and threatens to tear her life apart.
You have had a varied career - from human-rights advocate and high court judge to author and playwright. Tell me about the different roles you have played and how they have brought you to where you are today.
As a human-rights lawyer, I was constantly representing those subject to discrimination and oppression in the courts. My writings also address their plight. I have written a number of books, including one about how the Nationalist regime killed the Cradock Four. Another addresses the sad career of Indian golfer Papwa Sewgolum, another victim of the apartheid system. So my sympathy for the oppressed has led me to portray the discrimination against women in the legal profession in my play.
What do you find most meaningful about the work you do?
As a retired lawyer and judge, I am in the fortunate position of being able to research and write books about the social and political life of SA. My career gave me some insights into the problems facing the new SA. My present research is directed at finding out how the richest country in the world, as far as resources are concerned, came to have the biggest gulf between rich and poor.
What is the best career advice you have ever received, and who gave it to you?
It was during my legal studies and is encapsulated in the maxim, "Let justice triumph even if the heavens fall". Truth, honesty and integrity are crucial if we are to make a better world.
I was also inspired by the philosophy of the German thinker Friedrich Nietzsche, who said, "Become what you are." In other words, try to fulfil your potential and do the best you can with the talents you have.

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