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Ms Mareena Lani Opperman

Candidate Profile

Professing to speak Fanagalo — the bastard mine dialect that combines indigenous languages and Afrikaans — is certainly no way to suggest to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that one can speak a local language. From Goldfields in the Free State, Oppperman argued that Fanagalo “is an established language where I come from.” To which Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng cut her off: “It was an established insult.” Opperman, giggling nervously, apologised.

Opperman will be applying for a position on a Bench where she has previously acted which will work in her favour. In October last year she was heavily criticised by Judge Hlophe for applying for a position in the Western Cape where she had not acted. This again confirms the split between theory and practice: while in theory experience as an acting judge is not needed, Judge Hlophe certainly views acting in his court as a prerequisite for appointment, Ironically, it is he who appoints acting judges to the Western Cape bench.

A District Court Magistrate since 2003, Opperman also spent time at the Family Violence court over the past two years. She has acted in the Free State High Court in 2015 and 2016.

She previously told the commission that her experience as a magistrate would ensure she was empathetic to the plight of those who appeared before her seeking justice.

Currently a magistrate in the domestic violence court in Bloemfontein, Opperman said this was “where I could see it, I could smell it, I heard it; justice is not completely accessible”, Opperman said in October 2017.

About her sense of the law, Opperman said “justice has a feminine aura” and that she knew and lived the obstacles in the path of women in the legal fraternity.

“People don’t think its normal to be a female judge,” she said.

Opperman completed an LLB at the University of the Free State in 1994 before obtaining two masters in law from her alma mater in 2005 and 2007. Opperman worked as a regional court prosecutor from 1994-1996 and then as regional court control prosecutor from 1996-1997. She then worked as a state advocate for six years before taking up a position in the magistracy in 2003.

Opperman lectured part-time at the University of the Free State in 2010 and 2012. She is the current chairperson of Child Welfare Bloemfontein and ChildLine in the Free State.

April 2018 Interview:

April 2018 Interview Synopsis:

The first part of magistrate Mareen Opperman’s twenty minute interview before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) was spent rehashing her previous interview in October 2017, when she unsuccessfully applied for a position on the Western Cape Bench.

Opperman told the commission, again, that she is passionate about domestic and gender-based violence and ensuring the courts and the part of the criminal justice system — from cops to medical practitioners and psychologists — that deals with these cases are fully equipped to do so in holistic manner.

Her views on South Africa’s creaking and dysfunctional prison system was canvassed and like all right-minded South Africans, Opperman thought it needed urgent attention to make for more effective rehabilitation, at the very least.

She thought more should be done to capture data around human trafficking since in many instances these crimes were bundled together with kidnapping, rape, murder and sex-work which meant proper reporting on incidence rates was being lost.

Not many legal principles were tested with Opperman, nor her knowledge of case law. The last time Opperman acted at the high court was in 2016. Despite some legal bodies feeling she needed more acting experience before being appointed to the high court the JSC felt otherwise.

 

October 2017 Interview:

October 2017 – Interview synopsis

Professing to speak Fanagalo — the bastard mine dialect that combines indigenous languages and Afrikaans — is certainly no way to suggest to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that one can speak a local language.

“I come from the Goldfields in the Free State and can speak Fanagalo,” Magistrate Lani Opperman told the JSC.

“I am not fluent in Sotho, but I do use it to put people at ease. And I am never without this…” she said rummaging around her files and producing copy off a Afrikaans-Sotho dictionary.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng then told Opperman that Fanagalo was not an indigenous language.

Oppperman, oblivious, responded: “It is an established language where I come from.”

“It was an established insult,” the chief justice responded. Opperman, giggling nervously, apologised.

Asked about why she was applying for a position at a court where she had never acted, Opperman told the commission that because the Free State High Court had “almost perfected” transformation “physically and ideologically” she believed her appointment to the Western Cape would assist in adding more females to a male-dominated Bench.

Responding to ANC member of parliament Thoko Didiza, Opperman said her appointment to the Bench would bring a empathetic sensibility because of her time in the lower courts, “rather than the Bar”. The magistrates court was “where I could see it, I could smell it, I heard it; justice is not completely accessible”, Opperman said.

About her sense of the law, Opperman said “justice has a feminine aura” and that she knew and lived the obstacles in the path of women in the legal fraternity.

“People don’t think its normal to be a female judge,” she said.