In a seminal judgment, Kievets Kroon Country Estate (PTY) Ltd v Mmoledi and Others, Deputy Judge President Pule Tlaletsi mainstreamed traditional belief into labour law practise.
A worker, Johanna Mmoledi, was dismissed for absconding from work after she began to twasa (the process of becoming a sangoma) following advice from a traditional healer she had visited to treat what was initially thought to be an illness. Her letter explaining this to her employees was disregarded and she was sacked.
The Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration found that Mmoledi’s firing amounted to unfair dismissal, which both the labour and labour appeal courts upheld.
In writing his majority judgment for the Labour Appeal Court, Tlaletsi found that Mmoledi was not sick in the “conventional sense” but was “in a ‘condition’” where she was experiencing “a calling from her ancestors” to train to become a sangoma.
He ruled that employees should not “trivialise” beliefs which they may not subscribe to but, rather, allow for reasonable accommodation of these beliefs into the workplace.
“A paradigm shift is necessary and one must appreciate the kind of society we live in. Accommodating one another is nothing else but “botho” or “Ubuntu” which is part of our heritage as a society,” wrote Tlaletsi. There was no costs order.
Tlaletsi holds a BProc and an LLB from the University of Bophutatswana. He served his articles at the State Attorney’s Office before running his own partnership, Gura Tlaletsi Inc. from 1989-2003.
He was permanently appointed to the Northern Cape High Court in 2003 and ascended to the division’s deputy-judge presidency ten years later. He has also served as a judge of the Labour Appeal Court.
Prior to his permanent appointment to his current position Tlaletsi was involved in a racial spat involving various other judges where name calling and charges of nepotism dominated complaints and counter-complaints. See Majiedt profile here.
When members of the rightwing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging invaded Mafikeng in 1994 to prop up the Bophutatswana bantustan regime of Lucas Mangope, several came to a bloody end.
The photographs of white men begging for their lives, while others lay dead on the road, appeared to shatter any remaining misconceptions of white supremacy.
Mangope’s regime sought to prosecute local policemen, in some cases without proper investigation which led to incidents of mistaken identities, to make a quick example to the local population and stem further insurrection. Northern Cape Deputy-Judge President Pule Tlaletsi told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that he and other lawyers had, however, acted to ensure those arrested had proper legal cover and that due process was followed.
When asked by commissioner Tabani Masuku, an advocate and one of four presidential representatives to the Judicial Service Commission, his one “indispensable quality of a judge president,” Tlaletsi said: “To be open and in control.”
Highlighting that the Northern Cape, while sparsely populated, is the biggest province in terms of land mass, Tlaletsi said one of the main challenges facing the population there as “people have to travel long distances to come to court”.
Tlaletsi later said that he would address the challenge by working closely with the magistracy, consult community leaders to discover what the main problems were and investigate whether strengthening access to pro-bono legal advice and the Legal Aid Board would help address the situation.
He said judgments reserved for inordinately long periods were “not that much of a problem” in the division and told the commission that his approach too dealing with tardy judges would be to first “monitor progress” before engaging judges to “find out what the problems would be” and rectifying the situation.
Tlaletsi said he would “be careful not to reward laziness” by taking judges with outstanding judgments out of courts so that they would have time to complete them.
But public service and administration minister Faith Muthambi, sitting in for the justice minister, quizzed Tlaletsi on his own record in handing down judgments. Pointing out that the General Council of the Bar had been critical of him of being “prone to unreasonable delay” Muthambi asked if it was “acceptable” that the judge had several outstanding judgments going back seven-eight months.
Tlaletsi said most of these judgments were in the Labour Appeal Court and had been delayed because other judges on the panel had to have “a bite at it”.
His spat with other judges (see profiles of Tlaletsi -above and Majiedt) was also raised and Tlaletsi said the matter had been resolved and “once due process has been followed… one must move on with life”.