The gallery couldn’t hold back their sniggers when, during the April round of Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews for the position of North West High Court Judge President, Judge Ronald Hendricks listed “the ability to lead” as one of his leaderships strengths. (watch video below)
While stating the bleeding obvious is apparently not one of Hendricks’s self-identified shortcomings, he did identify a lack of patience as a potential weakness during his unsuccessful interview earlier this year.
Hendricks’s handling of traditional leadership cases has raised concern among critics in the academic fraternity.
In the 2011 matter of Pilane and Another v Pheto and Others Hendricks was asked to rule on whether the respondents were members of the Bakgatla – Ba – Kgafela Royal Family and had the powers to call a meeting of the “royal family”.
Hendricks found that the respondents were “not core members” of the royal family and did not have the standing to call such a meeting. The judgment was criticised by academics Aninka Claassens and Boitumelo Matlala.
In an article published in the New South African Review they argued that the judgment was a “disconcerting and novel interpretation of customary law” which deferred membership of a royal family and chiefly status to “the discretion of a ‘paramount’ based in another country.” They added that the judgment meant chiefs could not be held accountable by the communities.
Hendricks appears to have handled several cases involving Kgosi Nyalala Pilane of the Bakgatla ba Kgafela during his time on the North West Bench and has previously acquitted him of fraud and corruption charges linked to the administering of millions of rands that the Bakgatla community derive from platinum mining activity on their land.
That incident and other alleged misspent millions is currently being investigated by the Maluleke Commission.
On the more curious side 2005 case, S v Nkuna, Judge Hendricks had to ascertain whether an accused could be convicted of murder when the body of the deceased had not been found.
No direct evidence was led and the state relied on circumstantial evidence in the matter. Henricks convicted the accused of murder, finding there was no evidence to suggest that the victim was still alive.
In his reasoning, Hendricks found that to “require the production or discovery of the body (corpus delicti) in all cases would be unreasonable and unrealistic and, in certain cases, would lead to absurdities. To my mind it would lead to a gross injustice particularly in cases where a discovery of the body is rendered impossible by an act of the offender himself. … It is thus proper for a court to convict an accused on circumstantial evidence provided it has the necessary probative force to warrant a conviction, and the fact that death can be inferred from circumstances that leave no ground for a reasonable doubt.”
Hendricks holds two degrees, including an LLB, from the University of Pretoria. He worked as an advocate from 1993-2003 and acted at the high court in the North West before his permanent appointment in 2003. He acted in the Labour Court and in the Labour Appeal Court in 2007 and 2010 respectively. Over the course of 2012, 2014 and 2016 he has spent stints as acting Judge President of the North West Division of the High Court.
October 2017 interview:
October 2017 – Interview Synopsis
The sole candidate for the deputy-judge president vacancy at the North West High Court, Judge Ronald Hendricks was immediately thrown into the shadier parts of the province’s political economy.
An objection to Hendricks’s candidacy had been raised by a member of the public in a letter to the Judicial Service Commission in which accusations of corruption within the division were raised. Hendricks did not deal with the matter authoritatively, dancing around the question like a tango-dancer on melting ice.
Commissioner Julius Malema told Hendricks that members of the cleaning staff at the high court had come to him with complaints about the judge’s bullying. Hendricks denied threatening the cleaner and any collusion to make the cleaner’s life unbearable.
While Hendricks floundered on the allegations of corruption and collusion he also fared terribly on questions relating to gender parity in society and feminism.
April 2017 interview:
April 2017 – Interview Synopsis
On his leadership style, Hendricks said that one “has to demonstrate in order to lead” and that one would “have to give guidance to the people you are leading”.
He later listed his leadership strengths as having “the ability to take the lead”, being able to attend to and resolve problems and that “I am a good listener”. He identified losing one’s patience as a potential weakness.
“I am definitely a team leader,” he told the commission, “I like to operate in a group and work together.”
When asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng how he would “anticipate” and then “crush” any “factionalism in a court setting”, Hendricks said he would use the personal touch: calling people in to discuss “an impasse or a misunderstanding… you have to do it on a personal level and not through correspondence”.
When asked about conflicts in the workplace he said he would mediate between affected parties.
He suggested that to broaden the pool of prospective female judges provincial workshops for lawyers and legal academics be held where attendees would be informed of what “the work of a judge entails” and practical experiences and guidance could be shared.