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Onica van Papendorp


Current Position: Regional Magistrate

Appointed: 2003

Candidate Bio:

A regional court magistrate from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, Onica Van Papendorp spent several years working as an attorney before joining the magistracy in 2003. She has spent stints acting at the high court in the Eastern Cape from 2015 onwards.

She appeared before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in 2017 when she was unsuccessfully interviewed for a position on the Bench in Grahamstown. Then, she was lambasted by commissioners for serving acting appointments in the high court while she had outstanding part heard matters in the magistrate’s court.

In Pohl v Weyer, the applicant sought to terminate a joint venture agreement as well as the respondent’s right to continue performing radiography services from a hospital laboratory which they had to vacate.

After perusing the correspondence between the litigants and considering the failed attempts to settle the matter, Van Papendorp held that “it is clear that the relations between the two parties soured to the extent that any continued working relationship has become strained and almost impossible.

“On these grounds alone, the applicant would be entitled to have terminated the joint venture agreement as she did… I have concluded that the applicant was well within her rights to terminate the agreement.” The termination of the agreement was confirmed.

The 51-year-old Van Papendorp holds a B.Juris and an LLB from the University of Port Elizabeth and a masters in law from the University of South Africa.

April 2019 Interview:

April 2019 Interview Synopsis:

Magistrate Onica Van Papendorp’s interview lasted just under twenty minutes. It crashed and burned when, flustered, she could not tell the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) what the Plascon-Evans rule was.

One of the general rules of the high court, it relates to final interdicts in motion proceedings: Wherein motion proceedings disputes of fact arise on the affidavits, a final order can be granted only if the facts in the applicant’s affidavits, which have been admitted by the respondent, together with the facts alleged by the latter, justify such order.

Prior to that, Van Papendorp had been asked about the length of time before handing down reserved judgments (between two weeks and three months in civil matters and usually overnight in criminal matters) and admitted that her previously having gone on acting stints while she had partly heard matters in the magistrate’s court was an error.

She was also asked about her use of Afrikaans in writing some judgements and told the commission that many cases in Port Elizabeth were heard in Afrikaans before a directive from Mogoeng that English was the official language in all courts. She said these judgments had not been translated into any other languages.

October 2017 Interview:

October 2017 Interview synopsis:

Magistrate Onica Van Papendorp was cricticsed for her decision to serve acting stints while she still had part-heard matters awaiting her attention at her regular nine-to-five in the lower court.

Advocate Thabani Masuku, one of four appointments to the Judicial Service Commission by President Jacob Zuma, described her “poor judgment” as an “injustice” which deprived litigants swift justice.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng criticised her for elevating “an opportunity for career advancement” rather than delivering justice: “Does it not reflect negatively on your judgment?”
Van Papendorp conceded that it did.

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe noted that Van Papendorp had listed her learning Xhosa on her application form and enquired the progress made on that. Van Papendorp said that while apparently trying to pick up from childhood, she had a minimal passive knowledge of the language — which did not suggest much about her commitment to learning. Judge Hlophe’s quick test of her language skills in telling her in isiXhosa that he’s hungry and wants food left her unable to follow. She was given a much easier escape route than previous candidates who have been crucified by the commissioners for suggesting that they know an indigenous language when they don’t.