For those of you who do not know, we have been amidst a serious set of allegations of racism in the judiciary in South Africa. Judge Hlophe, Judge President of the Western Cape, made allegations of racism last year, calling the pace of transformation too slow. He further alleged that black judges were belittled by colleagues and members of the bar. This resulted in much consternation and recrimination. Read more here. An offcial enquiry was launched and is due to deliver findings shortly.
Last week, new allegations regarding Judge Hlophe himself were raised. It was alleged that the Judge President called an attorney "a piece of white shit," apparently for, again allegedly, criticising a judgement handed down by a black acting-judge. More can be read here.
It was also alleged that Judge Hlophe told colleagues that he allocated a sensitive case regarding mother-tongue language rights for learners at the Mikro school in the Western Cape to a judge apparently regarded as conservative, because, in Judge Hlophe's alleged words, he [Judge Hlophe] knew that "Judge Wilfred Thring would fuck it up" and it could then be reallocated on appeal. On learning of these allogations, the advocate presenting the case chose not to appeal. More can be read here.
Today's stunning news is that the involved parties have chosen not to take the matter further, in the interests of the public. More can be read here.
Of course this entire affair is damaging for the transformation of the judiciary. And of course transformation is one of the most critical challenges facing South Africa. But not dealing with this matter is a slap in the face to all those affected by racism in South Africa. Without the guts to have open investigation and fair and due process, transformation stands little chance. Most galling of all, however, is that Judge Hlophe's claims made earlier this year resulted in a wide spread investigation and certainly fueled the fires of all those who regarded the judiciary in South Africa as a lagging remnant from our apartheid past. Every person who felt they were a victim of a racist system had reason to question the fairness of a trial.
An entirely different process has now been followed regarding possibly the most serious allegations raised against a South African judge. No transparency was ensured, no due process was followed. Instead a group of the judiciary met behind closed doors with the Minister of Justice and the whole matter disappeared. It provides grounds for anyone with a view that transformation is motivated by new racist agitators to point fingers at a system they might choose not to believe in.
I believe that the vast majority of our legal profession are hard working and underpaid. I believe that the vast majority of our judiciary are fair and learned men and woman.
But you can bet that if I'm ever involved in a legal case that I feel is not going my way, with Judge Hlophe presiding, I will motivate for his recusal. Such would be the implications of any doubt as to the integrity of our judciary. And that cannot be good for our democracy.