Mhlambi obtained a B.Proc from the University of South Africa in 1986 and was admitted as an attorney a year later. Prior to this he had worked as a taxi-driver and clerk in the justice and health departments. He then took up a position as an interpreter in the courts between 1980 and 1984 which led to him climbing the legal ladder.
Attorney Joseph Mhlambi was recommended for appointment to the Free State High Court Bench following a reasonably stress-free interview.
One of the few speed bumps he encountered along this on-ramp to the judicial highway involved an initial difficulty in describing his “judicial philosophy”. Originally asked this by Advocate Mike Hellens SC, Mhlambi responded that it was “to give effect to the Constitution”.
Mogoeng intervened to enquire as to Mhlambi’s understanding of the question. Hellens rephrased it to include how the candidate saw his function as a judge and the “things that drive you” in delivering justice.
Mhlambi said his understanding of his place as a judge in a Constitutional state, meant that he wanted to give effect to Constitutional values like treating people equally, fairly and independently, while recognising that the document “reigned supreme”.
Later, feeling that Hellens’ question had been inadequately answered, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema pushed Mhlambi for a clearer response. The attorney said his role as a judge was to ensure that what had happened before the advent of South Africa’s democracy would not happen again.
He otherwise dealt easily with questions about his understanding of the separation of powers doctrine and his experiences of acting in various high courts and ability to write judgments clearly and promptly.
Recalling his having worked his way up from a court interpreter, Mhlambi said these experiences meant he understood almost all aspects of the court system.
When it was pointed out that he was a member of the ANC, Mhlambi assured the commission that he would resign from the party if appointed, and likewise from the businesses where he was registered as a director.