Born in Nongoma in rural northern KwaZulu-Natal, Mnguni worked as a hardware store manager to fund his legal studies at the University of Zululand.
He entered the legal profession as an advisor at the university’s legal aid clinic before joining the firm Msimang, Rutsch & Company in Pietermaritzburg as an articled clerk. He was a director of Pietermaritzburg-based law firm Tomlinson Mnguni James before his appointment to the Bench in 2009.
Mnguni’s case load has been laden with criminal matters, and the judge is known to be tough on violent crime. In 2015 he sentenced two Newcastle farm workers to life imprisonment for robbing and killing a local farmer. In the rape case, Klaas v S, he noted that, when sentencing on rape it was incumbent on the judiciary to “send a message to the community that rape will be visited with severe punishment”.
In a 2013 judgement, SOHCO v Ramdass, he ordered the eviction of 231 families living in a public housing rental scheme after they embarked on a “rent boycott” and appeared to have “arrogated to themselves the decision as to when, where and how to pay the rentals due”.
“Importantly, they have also defied a finding of the KwaZulu-Natal Rental Housing Tribunal [that they must pay rent] and have embarked on a deliberate strategy of non-payment to force the applicant to reduce rentals,” Mnuguni wrote. The families’ appeal to the Constitutional Court was rejected.
Mnguni has one outstanding judgment, which he heard on 22 September 2017, and it is politically loaded: Gavston Savoi & Others v The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) & Another.
The matter relates to one thread in a broader web of legal battles involving the so-called “Amigos” case involving top-ranking ANC politicians in the KZN government and Savoi, a Uruguayan businessman. Savoi together with former head of provincial treasury Sipho Shabalala, his wife Beatrice Shabalala and others have faced charges of fraud and corruption for over seven years. The original case related to the kickback-strewn awarding of R144-million worth of provincial contracts. Mnguni heard an application brought by Savoi and his colleague Fernando Praderi to compel the NPA to provide more information about the case against them as they were seeking a permanent stay of execution.
During his unsuccessful April 2016 interview for the KZN deputy judge president vacancy Mnguni was quizzed about his relationship with the late businessman and Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust founder Don Mkhwanazi — who was cited as a reference on the judge’s CV — by commissioner Julius Malema, the leader go the Economic Freedom Fighters. That Mnguni was nervous and evasive in his responses did not help matters. This time, he has included the proprietor of a hardware store in rural Nongoma, KwaZulu-Natal — quite possibly the only judge before the Judicial Service Commission to ever do so.
April 2018 Interview Synopsis:
Sometimes Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews reveal more about the views of those asking the questions, than the candidate who is supposed to be demonstrating an aptitude for a potential job.
The interviews for three vacant positions on the Competition Appeal Court (CAC) demonstrated as much.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng believes corporate corruption is not nearly as investigated and criticised by the media as when government is caught doing a naughty. He also appears to believe that the punishments — fines of no more than ten percent of turnover are allowed by legislation — may not prove that much of a deterrent to corporate malfeasance.
Advocate Dali Mpofu believes that while the free market is “based on the assumption of competition” the corporate reality of price-fixing and predatory pricing suggests capital behaves quite differently. Mpofu, like Mogoeng, believes that “competition law” is an area of the law that needs to be “demystified” for both practitioners and the public.
So, what did we learn about KwaZulu-Natal Jerome Mnguni who, together with the other two candidates, will take up positions at the Competition Appeal Court?
He believes Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel has tabled “far-reaching” amendments to the Competition Act which will “deal with the concentration of ownership” in the economy. The amendments, Mnguni said, were “progressive” and would allow for inquiry to go beyond just the two parties before the court and into the market. This, in his estimation, would allow the judiciary to address structural issues around monopoly capital which, because of the country’s apartheid past, is skewed towards white people.
Mnguni was “really humbled” by the collegiality in the CAC because there was “so much mutual respect”. He felt that aside from judgment writing and education drives among the public to bring to their attention what the Competition Commission and courts were doing, the judiciary was “limited” in its powers to raise such awareness.
April 2016 interview:
April 2016 Interview Synopsis:
A visibly nervy Mguni struggled through-out his interview but appeared to especially come a cropper towards the end, when he was unable to explain his relationship to one of the referees listed in his curriculum vitae, KwaZulu-Natal “businessman and entrepreneur, Donald Mkhwanazi.
Asked by Economic Freedom Fighters MP Julius Malema to explain his relationship to Mkhwanazi, Mguni floundered like a fish hooked on the end of a line. Mnguni stated that Mkhwanazi was a “motivator” and a “mentor” but was unable to explain further – appearing evasive at times.
He said the businessman had come to university to address students about the “situation in the country” during apartheid. Pressing on, Malema described that he had addressed crowd previously, the biggest being a packed FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, but that didn’t mean that anyone inspired by him would be able to list him as a referee. Malema’s insistent attempt for an explanation was eventually cut short by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who said the EFF commander-in-chief would have to live with the answers he had received. It is believed that the Mkhwanazi referred to is the infamous founder of the Friends of Jacob Zuma Trust.
Mguni acted as deputy judge president during the first term this year, and has adminsitrative experience, sitting on several committees within the division. Mguni said that this experience, couple with his relative youth and energy would stand him in good stead for the position of deputy judge president.
Citing the KZN Advocates for Transformation (AFT) submission to the JSC that, with Jappie defined as “coloured” and fellow contender Shyam Gyanda of Indian descent, it was imperative that the commission consider appointing a Black African, Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza SC asked Mguni to comment.
The judge said: “If you don’t involve African people into the administration of the court then you create the impression that they are not good enough for that administrative role.”