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Judge Muzikawukhelwana Thomas Ncube

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as a judge:
January 2022 (KwaZulu-Natal High Court– Seconded to Land Claims Court)
Ethnicity: African
Date of Birth:
December 1957
B.Iuris (1983) LLB (1997) (UniZulu), PG.Dip (Environmental Law)(2002); LLM (2003) (UKZN)

Key judgments:

Candidate Biography (updated April 2024):

Judge Muzikawukhelwana Thomas Ncube is a judge of the KwaZulu-Natal High Court, seconded to the Land Court.

A thorn among roses, Judge Muzikawukhelwana Ncube is the only man judge in the Land Court dominated by women. However, this does not discount his candidate for the top job of judge president.

Ncube started his career as a court interpreter and later court clerk at the Mbumbulu Magistrates Court while studying for his B.Iuris law degree at the University of Zululand. He later became a district prosecutor. He served as a magistrate in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands for 29 years from June 1986 until the end of 2015 (including as a regional magistrate from 2014).

After serving initial stints as an acting judge of the Land Claims Court, from 2006 to 2011, Ncube enrolled for SAJEI’s Aspirant Judges’ Course in 2012. He continued acting in both the Land Claims Court and the Gauteng High Court since.

While an acting judge, he wrote the groundbreaking judgment in Mwelase, which ordered that the Minister of Land Reform appoint a special master to administer labour tenant claims, which had been neglected for several years. Labour tenants are former farmworkers who had been living on the farms the farms they worked on (some for generations) but had insecure tenure on that land. The land claims process allowed them to claim rights to claim more secure rights to the land that they lived and worked. However, the claims process was bureaucratic nightmare, leaving many of the original claimants vulnerable, and several dying while waiting for their claims to be adjudicated. Ncube therefore fashioned a unique remedy that allowed a faster claims process and with some judicial oversight. The Mwelase judgment was upheld in the Constitutional Court.

Ncube’s judgment in Aquarius Platinum (SA) was also upheld on appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal. That case concerned an eviction application of 171 occupiers from the Kroondal farm in term of the Extension of Security of Tenure Act (ESTA). Ncube found that such evictions, usually on rural land and involving farmworkers, require a two-stage process of firstly inquiring into whether there had been a valid termination of the land occupation, and secondly whether there is a valid notice of the landowner’s intention to obtain an eviction order. Ncube found that the employment relationship between the occupier and landowner is irrelevant in this process. The two-stage process was endorsed by the appellate court.

Ncube has some experience with the administration and running of a court. He held several stints as the Acting Chief Magistrate and Judicial Head for Region 6 (KZN), comprising 32 magisterial districts from Durban and the KZN South Coast. This job would’ve involved case flow management, courts, quality assurance and preparing judicial circulars and notices, and more so in a largely rural setting. These would be attributes he would bring to the operations of the Land Court.

Like most magistrates, Ncube took up membership with the Judicial Officers Association of SA (JOASA) (1996 – 2013) and the Association of Regional Magistrates of SA (2014 – 2021). He is also a member of the Black Lawyers Association from 2015 to date (which would raise eyebrows, as judicial officers generally do not belong to organisations dominated by practicing lawyers).

While Ncube has written some groundbreaking judgments in the field of land law, his broader body of work as a judge is relatively thin, especially considering that he has served as both an acting and permanent judge for over 15 years. On their search of the electronic databases and law reports, the GCB finds that Ncube has produced two reported judgments, and four unreported judgments. Three of his judgments have been upheld on appeal, while two were overturned. While this record might be fair for a relatively junior judge, the JSC might have some serious questions to ask of a candidate who aspires to be the jurisprudential leader of a court, as Ncube does.

April 2024 Interview


October 2021 Interview

October 2021 Interview Synopsis

Muzikawukhelwana Thomas Ncube ’s April 2021 interview for a position on the KwaZulu-Natal High Court, seconded to the Land Claims Court, was successful. He was nominated for appointment.

In an interview that lasted a little over an hour, Ncube was quizzed on a variety of issues relating to land law and then some. Asked by the Minister of where the budget will come from for the special master Ncube ordered in his judgment (which was subsequently upheld by the Concourt), Ncube baldly said “budget is no problem. The budge the Department had allocated to processing claims should be used to now assist the Special Master”. Ncube made a similarly bold statement in response to the question of whether he believes the law allows expropriation without compensation. “I don’t think you can speak about access without expropriation without compensation…it’s the only way out,” Ncube said, jettisoning the coyness and caution that sometimes judges take, out of fear that the issue will one day come before them in court. Ncube went on to say the Constitution was vague and should be made explicit to allow expropriation of land without compensation, and even the Expropriation Bill still falls short. While his responses no doubt won him some favour with the more radical quarters of the of the JSC, it would be interesting how parties who come before his court would take the statements.