With career options limited for blacks during apartheid, Le Grange intended following the route of most so-called “coloured” folk; by learning a trade and becoming an artisan.
Taking a short-cut to the Department of Coloured Affairs offices to find an apprenticeship, he went through the University of Western Cape which, in the 1980s under the Vice-Chancellorship of Professor Jakes Gerwel, was attempting to open the doors of learning as wide as possible.
There, Le Grange learnt that he could enrol for a diploma in law if he rewrote matric and gained an exemption – which he subsequently did: “It was pure coincidence that I became interested in law,”Le Grange told Independent Newspapers, recounting the anecdote at the time of his 2007 appointment to the Western Cape High Court.
Le Grange was involved in some of the compelling theatre — albeit from the safe distance of the Western Cape bench — that has become an entertaining part of South Africa’s parliament.
During President Jacob Zuma’s 2015 State of the Nation speech, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs caused disturbances which led to them being forcibly chucked out by security forces.
The Democratic Alliance challenged the constitutionality of Section 11 of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, invoked to remove the EFF.
Writing for a full bench, Le Grange found that Section 11 was only applicable to non-members of parliament to ensure the freedom to exercise “robust debate and controversial speech”. The ruling was recently confirmed by the Constitutional Court.
From Elsies River in Cape Town, Le Grange was embroiled in a spot of drama at the October 2010 round of Judicial Service Commission interviews after laying a complaint against one of the candidates, Pakama Ngewu, whom he had sat with on a case.
He complained that Ngewu, an acting judge at the time, had signed and handed down a judgment, which she later rescinded, after telling counsel that it was not her judgment, but, rather, a draft that her secretary had mistakenly sent out.
While agreeing with the outcome of Ngewu’s judgment, Le Grange had differed with her reasoning, subsequently delivering a separate concurring judgment, in light of the earlier “mistaken” judgment.
“I may not have the anatomy of a woman but I understand the issue of transformation,” Le Grange told the Judicial Service Commission as he recounted growing up Capw Town’s Elsies Rivier suburb where there was “domestic violence and economic violence” which his mother “did not escape”.
“But she taught us to be humble and dignified and not to stereotype people and to respect women,” said Le Grange, who said while his appointment may not advance the gender transformation of the Western Cape Bench, it did make for better numbers on race.
Le Grange said the norms and standards introduced for judges allowed for greater transparency about those who were working and those shirking, and had made the courts more efficient.
He said a “golden line” had to be drawn when allocating cases among judges at the court to ensure that while experienced judges adjudicated complex matters, those less experienced were still given cases which allowed them to grow within the division.
Le Grange was unsuccessful in his interview with the position going to Judge Patricia Goliath.