The application form that Advocate JJ Strijdom SC submitted to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has an element of the divine to it.
Not in a Sandton kugel exclamatory sense. Nor was it signed off by Diego Maradona’s “Hand of God”. Rather, it contains a letter to Dunstan Mlambo, Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, from a black female plaintiff who represented herself in a matter before Strijdom.
The plaintiff commends Strijdom for his courtesy and assistance when her matter was heard and concludes with an amazement “that the language of the courts mirrors that of the Christian Bible”.
The letter writer goes on to cite an example: “‘My Lord, I pray that you grant…’ and following my observation our Bible is based on love and redemption and Judge JJ Strijdom has redeemed my situation. I thank you for it.”
Where atheists may snigger, is certain to bring a smile, for different reasons, to the country’s born-again chief justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Whether it gets Strijdom the job, though, is another matter. Strijdom has exhibited a solid approach to the criminal cases that he has heard, including appeals against sentencing and the ubiquitous civil claims against the police for wrongful arrest and detention, and torture.
In the 2013 case of Modisane v the Road Accident Fund (RAF), the latter had opposed a claim for loss of support by a minor who had not been legally adopted by the deceased. The mother of the minor had, however, entered into a customary marriage with the deceased and had another child with him.
Strijdom noted the indigenous practice of “O e gapa le namane” had applied in this context: “In that sense, it means ‘Go nyala mosadi ka ngwana yo o sa mo tsaleng ka madi.’ Loosely translated, it says ‘To take a child born of another man into your marriage with its mother.’ For all intents and purposes, it is equal to the customary adoption of a child.”
He found there were sufficient facts to conclude that the minor had been adopted according to customary practise: “I am called upon to not only interpret, but also to be equal to the task of developing customary law…When interpreting the Bill of Rights, a Court must promote the values that underlie an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”
He found the RAF was liable for compensation to the minor.
Strijdom initially completed diplomas in law, allowing him to start work as a clerk and prosecutor in 1975, before obtaining a B. Juris (1986) and LLB (1993) from the University of South Africa. He started adjudicating in the magistrates’ court in 1980, before being promoted to chief magistrate Bethal, a political hotbed during that period. He held the position for two years. He worked as a senior prosecutor from 1986-1993 before joining the Pretoria Bar. Strijdom was conferred silk (senior counsel) in 2010.
He has spent 12 stints acting at the Gauteng Division of the High Court and has done circuit court work in Mpumalanga.
October 2018 Interview
October 2018 Interview Synopsis
Advocate “JJ” Strijdom possessed little charisma during his interview before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
He also became a dead-man walking very early on in the interview when Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judge Mahomed Navsa, filling in for his boss, SCA president Mandisa Maya, noted the candidate’s history as a 1980s apartheid-era prosecutor and magistrate.
Navsa described it as a “really bad time” when, such was the level of apparent collusion between the prosecutors and magistrates, that it was “very difficult to discern a division” between them.
He then asked Strijdom what personal change the candidate had undergone to now wed himself to the Constitution such that he wanted to become a judge in this new dispensation.
Strijdom responded by making broad remarks about how he came to a “different conclusion” about the country when he joined the Pretoria Bar in 1994, the year of South Africa’s first democratic elections which led to the ANC replacing the National Party and decades of whites-only rule.
He admitted there was “a lot of wrong done” during apartheid and that all change “is for a better South Africa”.
Remembering how young children were detained on “public violence” charges during anti-apartheid protests, Navsa tried to push Strijdom into revealing more about his personal journey from apartheid to the present — and to gauge his level of introspection and transparency, one sensed.
Strijdom stuck to a dour, generalised line, saying “it was not always easy being a prosecutor in those days” and that one didn’t have a “discretion… you have to follow the law”.
The JSC has previously been sympathetic to apartheid-era lawyers and magistrates appearing before it who have made full disclosure and apologised for whatever complicity in apartheid’s sustenance they may have been guilty of. To this end the commission has even recommended for appointment judges who have admitted to being part of the fascist, Afrikaner nationalist Broederbond movement.
But Strijdom — whether through lack of conscience or emotional imagination — appeared unable to introspect honestly.
So he faced further quizzing by the likes of Advocate Dali Mpofu SC, for the advocates profession, and national council of provinces representative, Tsapane Mampuru. Responding to these questions Strijdom admitted to prosecuting public violence cases and — in a surreal and humorous exchange — not having met former apartheid prime minister JG Strijdom.
JJ Strijdom appeared tone-deaf to the new South Africa when he admitted to not knowing what the concept of “ubuntu” meant, that he had only visited a township during apartheid when he had worked as a magistrate in the former Bophutatswana bantustan and that he appeared to have done little in the way of transforming the legal profession while working as an advocate.
He was not recommended for appointment.