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Judge Willem Wepener

Interview synopsis: 

Permanently appointed to the South Gauteng High Court in November 2010, Judge Willem Wepener has also served on the Electoral Court since February 2013.

In that time, he has written judgements that have confirmed the findings of the Public Protector and clarified the specific functions of commissioners at the Electoral Commission.

In the 2014 matter of The United Democratic Movement and Others v Tlakula and Another, Wepener found that former Electoral Commission Chairperson, Advocate Pansy Tlakula, had abused her position in ensuring a “friend” and business partner was awarded a lease contract for the Commission’s new offices.

The Electoral Court found that, in awarding the tender, Tlakula had flouted proper procedure and cost taxpayers at least R130.8-million. It further found that in furnishing the new offices to the tune of almost R60-million, Tlakula had not followed proper tender procedures and, “with little or no regard to what the actual cost was… and merely bought what [she] wanted.”

In all this, Wepener wrote, Tlakula, “chose not to abide by the law.”

In 2013, Wepener, with judges Khayelihle Mthiyane and Seun Moshidi concurring, found that the Electoral Commission was, “not the body to conduct criminal investigations, arrests and prosecutions,” in relation to incidents of electoral or voter registration fraud.

The case, Lotter v Electoral Commission and Others, related to voter registration fraud in Ward 22 of the Abaqulusi local municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, the Court found that the Electoral Commission had fulfilled its mandate by proving the veracity of each name on the list through door-to-door visits and then performing a second phase of registrations. It subsequently removed all illegitimate names from the roll and reported the matter to the police for investigation.

“Common law penalties for fraud or penalties for the contravention of the Electoral Act, the Electoral Commission Act or the Municipal Electoral Act will depend on criminal proceedings that may follow upon the information which was supplied to the SAPS and a conviction of any person of such offence or offences,” Wepener wrote, defining the Commission’s role in these instances.

In March this year, Wepener, in a unanimous judgment for a full bench of the Electoral Court, ordered the postponement of by-elections in the Tlokwe Municipality until the Electoral Commission could provide candidates with a voters’ roll that indicated addresses of all registered voters where available, as per an earlier Constitutional Court judgment. This followed a long-running issue of voter registration fraud in the municipality going back to 2013. When the Electoral Commission approached the Constitutional Court to have the Electoral Court’s order dismissed, it was ordered to ensure that the addresses of all registered voters, where “reasonably available” be recorded by the Electoral Commission by 2018. This set a new standard for voter registration in South Africa.

Wepener obtained a BComm and an LLB from the University of Stellenbosch in 1973 and 1975 respectively. He joined the Johannesburg Bar in 1978 and was conferred silk in 1994. From 1996 Wepener had acted several times in the South Gauteng High Court before being permanently appointed in November 2010.

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