Limpopo regional magistrate Matsaro Semenya has, over the past three years, spent four stints acting at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria and the Limpopo high Court in Thohoyandou.
During one of those periods in Pretoria, she reviewed the sentencing of a convicted drug-dealer in Linus v S.
The dealer, a first-time offender, had sold units of powder containing methcathinone and methamphetamine to an undercover cop but had argued that in handing down a 25 year sentence, the magistrate in the lower court had overemphasised the interests of the community and not taken full cognisance of the dealer’s own circumstance.
Semenya disagreed with this argument and, pointing out the costs to the state (to investigate and prosecute dealers and respond to the effects of drug abuse) and families (spending their disposable income to rehabilitate drug users), upheld the sentence.
Semenya otained a B.Juris from the the University of the North in 1986 and an LLB from the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 2003. She worked as a prosecutor from 1985-1991, a magistrate from 1991-2003, a senior magistrate for a year, before becoming a regional magistrate in 2004 — a position that she currently holds.
A large part of magistrate Matsaro Semenya’s interview was dominated by her handing down a five year suspended sentence to someone convicted of multiple violent rapes. The matter is currently being reviewed.
She told the Judicial Service Commission that she had been lenient after considering the effects a heftier sentence would have had on the children of the convict, but admitted that she had erred.
Semenya agreed with Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo (who was sitting in for Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo and representing the judges president) that adjudicating matters in the high court was very different from working in the magistracy since there were differences in the complexity of matters and the conceptual nature of the work.
On writing judgments promptly, Semenya said: “In the high court you procrastinate at your own peril”.
When asked about access to justice, especially for the poor and marginalised, Semenya said that this impacted on the work she did in the magistrates court. Semenya said that each day, before court commenced she would go through the court role, note the litigants who had travelled from the far-flung rural areas and who may be hamstrung by transport issues and ensure that their matters were heard first.
She said she would make a good judge because she “listens”, “doesn’t jump to conclusions” and “works and rewrites and rewrites” judgments. Semenya was nominated for appointment.