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Judge Mathebe Violet Phatshoane

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as judge: May 2011 (Northern Cape High Court, Kimberley)
Further appointment: Deputy Judge President (Northern Cape High Court, Kimberley)
Gender: Woman
Ethnicity: Black
Date of Birth: November 1972
Qualifications: B. Proc (Limpopo)(1995), LLB (1997), LLM (1999)(UFS)

Key judgments:

  • SA Airways SOC Ltd (In business rescue) v NUMSA 2020 41 ILJ 2113 (LAC)
  • Minister of Higher Education & Training v Business Unity SA (2018) 39 ILJ 160 (LAC)
  • Star Internet Café v Vukani Gaming Northern Cape (Pty) Ltd (254/2018) [2020] ZANCHC 23 (5 June 2020)
  • NDPP v Scholtz 2017 (1) SACR 483 (NCK)
  • Phillips v the Richtersveldt (Case NO 1639/09) ZANCHC
  • MBS Transport CC v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation & Arbitration and Others Bheka Management Services (Pty) Ltd v Kekana & Others (2016) 37 ILJ 684 (LC)
  • Noosi v Exxaro Matla Coal (JA62/2015) [2017] ZALAC 3 (10 January 2017)

Candidate Bio | Updated October 2023

Judge Violet Phatshoane is deputy judge president of the Northern Cape High Court.

If appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Phatshoane would have come full circle: shortly after graduating with a BProc law degree from the University of the North (now Limpopo) she started working as a judges’ research associate at the SCA in 1996.

While working, she also pursued her LLB degree at the University of the Free State, graduating in 1997. Also in 1997 she joined Bloemfontein law firm Naude Attorneys as a candidate attorney, becoming an associate attorney in 1999, and quickly rising to director in 2000, with a specialist labour and commercial law practice. During that time, she also completed her LLM at UFS.

In 2002 Phatshoane set up her own mega law firm Phatshoane Henney Group Inc. – one of the largest law firms group in country. She also served as a part-time commissioner and arbitrator at the CCMA (1999-2004). Although she left the firm as director and chairperson of the group in 2011, it still bears her name.

Phatshoane was appointed as a judge of the Northern Cape High Court in May 2011.

As a high court judge, Phatsoane has dealt with several cases involving the messy confluence of politics and business interests in the Northern Cape.

In a 2015 judgment, Phatshoane found that former Northern Cape premier and ANC provincial chair John Block had received kickbacks for working with Christo Scholtz, CEO of the Trifecta group of companies, to facilitate government leases exceeding R100-million all across the province. Scholtz had R60-million worth of assets confiscated.

In December 2016, she sentenced Block to an effective 15 years’ imprisonment after finding him guilty of fraud, corruption and money-laundering following an arduous four-year trial. Sentencing was delayed after Block’s lawyers lodged a complaint with the JSC alleging that Phatshoane had been influenced by former Northern Cape Judge President Kgomo. They alleged that a judge known to them had overheard a telephonic conversation between Judge Phatshoane and JP Kgomo during which the latter had urged her to “convict the bastards”. Phatshoane had dismissed the bid for her recusal. The complaint was similarly dismissed as unfounded.

Not one to rest on her laurels, between 2013 and 2015 Phatshoane requested several acting appointments as a judge of the Labour Court. This exposed her to a bigger world than the caseload in Kimberley but also kept her apace with her expert field of labour law.

From 2017 and 2021 Phatshoane served several stints as acting judge president and acting deputy judge president of the Northern Cape High Court. However, she had to come to the JSC interviews three times before she was successfully appointed as deputy judge president in 2021.

Meanwhile, Phatshoane amassed a wealth of experience as an appellate judge. Phatshoane served two terms in 2021 as an acting judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal and another term in 2022. While there, she penned three reported judgments.

From 2016 she served several acting stints as a Labour Appeal Court judge. While there, she wrote the judgment in South African Airways v NUMSA, concerning SAA’s intended retrenchment of 944 of 4 700 total employees after the commencement of the business rescue process of the national carrier, and against the prohibition on retrenchments. NUMSA took the issue to the Labour Court – which SAA argued had no jurisdiction.

The Labour Court ruled that retrenchments (even during business rescue) implicate the right to fair labour practices, which gives the court’s jurisdiction, and also that the retrenchment violate the prohibition . On appeal, Phatshoane (with 2 judges concurring) found the Labour Court does have jurisdiction over retrenchments during business rescue and dismissed the other arguments raised in SAA’s appeal on the grounds that it was moot.

Importantly, Phatshoane also served a year in 2018 and 6 months in 2020 as deputy judge president of the Labour Appeal Court, which permanent Appeal Judge Phillip Coppin described as “impressive”. In that role, Phatshoane functionally ran the Johannesburg node of the Labour Courts (assisting the Cape Town-based Judge President Waglay).

Phatshoame is also an academic at heart. Between 2006 and 2009 she lectured labour law subjects and supervised masters students at the University of the Free State, and candidate attorney at the School for Legal Practice. She also authored two chapters on employment equity law, particular on reasonable accommodations religious and ethnic minorities.  In 2012 she was awarded the Extraordinary Alumni Achiever award by the UFS.

Still in higher education, Phatshoane played a crucial role in the establishment of one of democratic South Africa’s first new universities, Sol Plaatje University in Kimberley. She served as a member of its council from December 2014, heading up its human resources committee, and later becoming deputy chairperson and finally chairperson of Council in 2021, succeeding fellow Judge Yvonne Mokgoro.

In a nomination letter for Phatshoane, Gauteng High Court Deputy Judge President and fellow LAC Judge Roland Sutherland says:
“[Phatshoane] exhibits a range of legal and non-legal experience which evidences her having enjoyed the ideal apprenticeship for service as judge of appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal.”

Phatsoane has been a member of the International Association of Women Judges’ SA chapter since 2014 and was elected as its Vice President (Programmes and Publications) from 2012 to 2014.

October 2023 Interview: 

Judge Violet Phatshoane’s October 2023 interview for a position on the Supreme Court of Appeal was unsuccessful. She was not nominated for appointment.

April 2021 Interview: 

April 2019 Interview:

April 2019 Interview Synopsis:

The stink of former Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo’s alleged attempts to ordain Violet Phatshoane as his successor following his 2017 retirement (see profile) still linger with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) like an ill-conceived flatus in an elevator.

It ensured that the position of deputy judge president of the division remained unfilled after the April sitting of the commission.

This was despite Phatshoane’s denial that she had been “head-hunted” by Kgomo to succeed him — an allegation made by her competition for the position of judge president in 2017, Judge Bulelwa Pakati, who said Kgomo had told her this in an attempt to dissuade her from availing herself for the job.

Phatshoane said she was “shocked and very hurt” by the allegations because “I thought we were friends, but I’ve got broad shoulders”. She said, “no issues had been put on the table” about the matter, but that she and Pakati continued to have “a cordial relationship” and that they “exchange pleasantries”.

Asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng “what has changed” in her judicial experience since that 2017 interview, Phatshoane said she had headed the division in an acting capacity for one month and had spent five months acting as the court’s deputy judge president, also. Phatshoane had also spent six months last year acting at the Labour Appeal Court and another six months acting as the deputy judge president of the Labour Court. This, she felt, stood her in good stead to assume the position she was interviewing for.

Asked if there were collegiality issues still lingering at in the Northern Cape, Phatshoane said there were “no problems” and that all the judges enjoyed a meal together on one of their birthdays or got a cake in, et cetera.

The allusion to happy families didn’t convince the JSC.

October 2017 Interview:

October 2017 Interview Synopsis: 

The Judicial Service Commission can sometimes be harder to read than a garbled ANC Youth League press release.

Sometimes innocuous seeming interviews degenerate into excruciating bloodbaths with interviewees being flayed to within an inch of their lives for some trespass — perceived or real. At others, just when you expect the commission to bare its teeth and rip a chunk out of a candidate, it declines the offer and chooses a smoothie instead.

The latter was the plat du jour during Judge Violet Phatshoane’s interview on Monday. After the allegations of divisions, factionalism and extra-procedural manoeuvring in the Northern Cape High Court favouring Phatshoane emerged during Judge Bulelwa Pakati’s interview, the gathered JSC-watchers (all four of us) were anticipating a spectacle befitting the Circus Maximus.

We got a smooth-jazz concert in the park. The probing about this apparent nepotism was subtle. Commissioners asked Phatshoane about any “challenges” in the division which she may want to address if she were appointed. She didn’t see any. Slightly changing tack, they enquired again. Phatshoane rambled on about problems in the magistracy and prosecuting authority caused by the freezing of appointments and about having called the Legal Aid Board, Bar and Side-bar for meeting when she was acting judge president so as to get a handle on the province.

Finally, Justice Minister Michael Masuthu proved the bluntest of the set of butter knives, noting that Phatshoane may not “have been frank and candid with us regarding relationships in that division” asked whether she wanted to “make some adjustments to the version you have given us”?

Phatshoane stuck to her story, saying there were no problems in the division and that she “related very well” with Pakati.

For the rest of the interview, Phatshoane appeared ill-prepared at times: she was still unable to give an authoritative analysis of the state of the Northern Cape magistracy despite being asked a similar question during her April interview when she admitted not having given that much thought. She also answered in broad brushstrokes questions relating to case-flow management and efficient hearing and delivery of judgements in that division despite being tasked with handling those areas.

At other times Phatshoane waffled on about her past achievements as a lawyer to the point when, asking the JSC whether she should carry on her self-affirmation trip, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng politely declined another “mouthful”.

Needless to say, she didn’t get the job.

April 2017 Interview:

April 2017 Interview Synopsis:

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng can become quite animated while chairing the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), but he rarely sighs at such audible length that one is fearful he may be left winded.

He did so after a ramble of a preamble to some odd questions by Public Service and Administration Minister Faith Muthambi, who is the justice minister’s substitute at the JSC during this sitting.

Muthambi interrogated Judge Violet Phatshoane on a complaint lodged against her concerning a case she was adjudicating which involved former ANC Northern Cape ANC chairperson, John Block (see Phatshoane profile).

The minister first asked if the order (handed down by Phatshoane) dismissing a request by Block that she recuse herself from his corruption and money-laundering trail was “complied with?” Phatshoane nervously responded that she had handed down the order and that she had been advised by the JSC that the complaint had been “dealt with… and dismissed.”

Muthambi followed up: “Aren’t you concerned that it was dismissed as an implicated party?” Phasthoane, looking puzzled, said that “on the contrary… I was happy to receive the letter from the JSC…[and] that the JSC saw these allegations were not compliant with the act and dismissed the allegation.”

Muthambi ended her questioning. The Chief Justice exhaled. The gallery chortled.

The politicians on the commission bared their partisan teeth: Commissioner Hendrick Schmidt, of the Democratic Alliance, later pointed to the vague detail in the allegations and commented that it was based on hearsay.

Then ANC member of the National Council of Provinces, Dikgang Stock, started pushing the interviewee on her decision to dismiss the application for recusal in the Block matter.

Economic Freedom Fighters Julius Malema called a point of order stating that he was “worried” that the questioning was going into “dangerous territory” as the matter may be appealed.

Stock persisted. Malema raised another point of order. Mogoeng ruled to end the line of questioning.

When later asked to point out any judgments that contributed to the development of the country’s jurisprudence, Phatshoane cited the judgment in the Block matter which allowed her to address a “lacuna” in the Corruption Act.

The interview later shifted from mainstream politics to the politics within the Northern Cape when Mogoeng revealed that Judge Cecile Williams, who had initially availed herself to be interviewed for both the Judge President and Deputy-Judge President positions, had withdrawn her candidacy.

Mogoeng said Williams had written to the JSC alleging that outgoing Judge President Frans Kgomo “had been grooming [Phatshoane] over the years” to eventually lead the division. The chief justice asked Phatshoane whether this could potentially “spoil” their relationship and how what measures the interviewee would take to ensure this didn’t happen.

Phatshoane conceded “there may be a problem that may arise” and that this may be resolved at a “diversity workshop” to be held soon.

Commenting on the rate of gender and race transformation, Phatsoane said that the judiciary was “making some strides, slowly but surely we are getting there” with the number of female judges has risen from 0.7% in 1994 to around 30% in 2017.

She also cited the prospective confirmation of acting Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya as the first female head of that court as progress. Phatshoane also stated that transformation was not just about numbers, but also improving the capacity of judges.