In October 2013, when successfully interviewing for her current position at the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town, Boqwana impressed the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) with her egalitarian take on Constitutional values and a temperament apparently tailor-made for the Bench.
She was forty then, relatively young compared to the “grave old men” reputation of the judiciary, and felt her youth represented an “eagerness” to learn, rather than a naiveté, or a shortcoming.
Her appointment, she added, would be a “positive message” about the transformation of the judiciary and its readiness to accept young black women.
Almost four years later Boqwana’s in-tray has included files that reflect South African politicians’ propensity for “lawfare”, egregious behaviour by ex-husbands, and having to sit on a full bench to decide whether police and Parliament’s security could be called in to remove members of the National Legislature.
In the first instance, Boqwana recently dismissed an urgent application by Western Cape ANC Chairman Marius Fransman, to stop the provincial Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) from calling him in for questioning about questionable hiring of, and payments to, consultants costing government R328-million.
The Auditor-General found the contracts and payments, some of which were made when Fransman was Provincial Transport and Public Works Minister, were either seriously flawed or badly managed.
Mindful of the separation of powers doctrine, Boqwana ruled that Fransman was asking her to “impermissibly” encroach into the Legislature’s terrain. Fransman resigned from the Legislature a few days later.
Following National Legislature speaker, Baleka Mbete, calling in police and private security to eject members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) from the 2015 State of the Nation Address in Parliament, Boqwana joined judges Andre le Grange and Judith Cloete on a full High Court bench which declared the section Mbete had relied on for the action unconstitutional. Le Grange wrote the judgment.
In a patriarchal society, she has been tough on “men being men”, awarding costs against an estranged ex-husband who had, for six-months, obstructed his ex-wife from organising a passport for their six year-old son so that he could spend Christmas with his grandparents in Mauritius.
Boqwana is an expert in labour law, with experience in other areas, including pension law, administrative law, constitutional law and family law.
Born and raised in the Eastern Cape, Boqwana obtained her B Proc and LLB degrees from Wits University and has previously worked in the mining sector and for the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa. Prior to her appointment to the Western Cape Bench she had also acted for three stints at the Labour Court.
Eminently qualified and evidently sharper than a stepping razor, Western Cape high court judge Nolwazi Boqwana appeared to have won over several members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) by merely walking in the door — a response that appeared unnerving when judging the response from an all-male quarter of the room.
This response caused ANC parliamentarian Mathole Motshekga to quip about her “interpersonal relations”: “I can see you are doing very well on that side,” he said. Whatever leeriness portrayed could not detract from Boqwana’s qualifications and experience — which seemed apparent to the JSC during an interview that lasted about ten minutes.
Boqwana was quickly asked to list the attributes that would make her successful in the job: she is “hardworking”, “thought through judgments”, “believes” she is a “patient person” and had gained further training to go with the “exposure” to competition matters as a lawyer.
Asked by commissioner Narend Singh if she had any advice for young black women, Boqwana said she had given several speeches to “women formations” and legal bodies because she wanted aspirant black female judges “to know that it is possible for young women to be a judge in specialised areas”.