While acting in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court last year, Masipa was involved in a Fawlty Tower-esque episode involving President Jacob Zuma’s relation, MandlaGcaba, a taxi-boss who was given the keys to the Ethekwini Municipality’s public bus transport system.
Gcaba was allegedly unable to pay the approximately R14-million he owed a luxury car dealer, Shaun Duminy of SDN Trading. Masipa had granted a provisional liquidation order against Gcaba’s Amandla Emicabango Investments.
However, later that day Gcaba and went back to court asking that the order be rescinded. It emerged that both Gcaba and Duminy had been negotiating a settlement which neither had communicated to their lawyers when the matter was heard.
The sequestration order would have prevented Gcaba from running the city’s bus service. Last year the bus service was interrupted on several occasions after Gcaba’s company, Tansnat was unable to but diesel or pay staff, with the city having to bail it out. The latter alleged that Gcaba owed it about R53-million.
Masipa acted for a month at the Labour Court in 2013, and as an assessor of the High Court in KwaZulu-Natal in Durban. Last year she acted for three months in the division’s Pietermaritzburg seat.
She obtained a B.Proc from the University of Limpopo in 1995 and an LLB from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1997, where she also obtained an LLM, writing in “The Effect of African Cultural Practices on Family Responsibility Leave”. She previously worked at the Centre for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and as a ProBono.org panel attorney, after setting up her practise, Masipa Inc. Attorneys in 2004.
Masipa was nominated for appointment by the commission despite leaving murky the details of a complaint lodged against her during her interview.
The complaint, which is being appealed, related an apparent confusion when her client did not arrive in court. Instead of withdrawing as an attorney of the court on the grounds that she did not have instructions, Masipa withdrew the application and tendered costs. She also faced complaints related to failing to comply with a court directive and a failure to supervise a candidate attorney.
Responding to questions about the challenges that female lawyers face within the fraternity, Masipa recounted events that underlined the entrenched patriarchy that exists.
Describing it as a “difficult environment” she said attempts to tackle the problem of black female practitioners not being briefed had proved unsuccessful despite approaches to both the State Attorney’s office and the private sector — as an individual and through organisations — with the latter being “even worse” in its intransigence to employ female lawyers.
Asked by KZN Premier Senzo Mchunu for a “specific instance” Masipa described an “instance that never escapes my mind” when sitting as an arbitrator. She had entered the boardroom early and sat down, whereafter the attorneys entered and “ignored me, they didn’t even greet me”.
“After a while, they asked me: ‘Are you the stenographer?’ I felt very humiliated,” said Masipa, later adding that incidents like these “do destroy the confidence of black female practitioners”.
While Masipa said she felt that the conduct of male lawyers appearing before her was often dismissive of her abilities and required that she “prove” herself to them, her gender did assist in dealing with cases involving rape and gender-based violence where survivors “felt relaxed” because the presiding officer was a woman.