A lawyer for 21 years, Siwendu obtained a B.Soc.Sci from the University of Cape Town and an LLB from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. Her career path included working at the South African Law Reform Commission and as a researcher at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at Wits University. Siwendu ran her own attorney’s practise from 1996 until 2012, when it merged with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyer Inc.
Asked by justice minister Michael Masutha why it was so difficult to attract and keep black women in positions within the judiciary, Siwendu suggested that “at the centre of [the reluctance] is money” as people were unwilling to give up lucrative careers or sign up to the Constitutional project and vision for South Africa.
Siwendu admitted that she sometimes struggled to write judgments, but that the delays did not accord with her personal values. She was also probed on her role at the SA Law Reform Commission and whether gender played any role in the adjudication of cases. She responded that it had and cited the Volks v Robinson matter which came before the Constitutional Court.
The matter, which dealt with the rights of the surviving spouse under the Maintenance Act, saw judges Yvonne Mokgoro and Kate O’Regan write a dissenting judgment which took a contextual approach in interpreting the Act’s provisions, while the majority judgment (by a majority male court) followed a contract law-based interpretation of the provisions.