In Ngwenya v Minister of Police, Mahanelo adjudicated a claim for damages for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention and malicious prosecution. The plaintiff had been arrested without a warrant and detained on a charge of possessing illicit cigarettes. A Zimbabwean national, he had no identity documents on his person.
In dismissing the claim, Mahanelo wrote: “Taking into account the fact that the plaintiff was found alone in the bedroom in which the illicit cigarettes were found and was not able to explain the presence thereof, it is reasonable that the arresting officer entertained the suspicion that a crime was committed in his presence, consequently it was not necessary for him to obtain a warrant.”
“It is common cause that the plaintiff is a Zimbabwean citizen, at the time of his arrest he did not possess a valid passport… [the arresting officer] testified that he took into account the fact that the plaintiff was an illegal immigrant for purposes of considering bail. He concluded that the detention of the applicant was an appropriate way of ensuring his attendance in court … A warning of the plaintiff or his release on bail at the police station under these circumstances would not serve the interest of justice.”
Mahanelo holds a BJuris and LLB from the North West University. She has previously worked as a public prosecutor and a magistrate. In 2003 she was elevated to a regional magistrate. Mahanelo has acted at the South Gauteng division of the high court between 2011-2016.
Maletsatsi Mahanelo was asked to address a letter of objection to her appointment which was lodged with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) by a former clerk claiming that she had ruined his legal career by accusing him of stealing a pair of sunglasses from her chambers.
Mahanelo said she had “never accused” her former clerk of theft and had “thought it reasonable” to ask him about the whereabouts of the missing sunglasses as they were the only people with access to her chambers.
The accuser had stated in his letter that he had been humiliated in public and in the presence of another judge and that his law career had been adversely affected because of the accusations.
Describing her acting stints in the high court, Mahanelo said that despite spending 26 years as a district and regional magistrate “coming from the magistracy to the high court was a big transition and at the beginning [in 2011], it was intimidating… But things became easier [with time] and the assistance of senior colleagues.” She added that her experience acting at high court in Gauteng was now “pleasurable”.
She said that judgment-writing in the high court was more difficult than in the magistracy because, in the case of the former, judgments were “exposed to the public and there is a high level of criticism” and scrutiny.
Mahanelo said that as a regional court magistrate 37 of her judgments were appealed of which 33 were confirmed. Of the remaining four, two convictions were set aside and two sentences were altered.