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Judge Portia Dipuo Phahlane

Capacity: Judge
First Appointed: April 2021
Gender: Female
Ethnicity: African

Key Judgements:
(1) P and Another v V (47202/2019) [2020] ZAGPPHC 41 (27 January 2020);
(2) Minister of Home Affairs and Another v Mahinga (A653/2017) 2020 ZAGPPHC 437 (12 August 2020);
(3) S v Sithole (Cc54/2019) [2019] ZAGPPHC 497 (22 August 2019); (4) Hendrick Chikane v S, Unreported Judgment, Case No. A287/2019, Gauteng High Court, Pretoria

Candidate Bio:
Advocate Portia Phahlane’s career is an inspiration to many. Having started out as a receptionist, she advanced herself when she qualified with a B.Proc (2000) and LLB (2002) from the Vista University (Mamelodi Campus). She has been in private practice since 2003 and has been a member of Church Square Association of Advocates since February 2003. She also serves as an independent marker at the University of South Africa (UNISA), as from 2016.

Her first appointment as an acting judge was in 2015 and she has since served as an acting judge on various acting stints in the Gauteng Division of the High Court. One of the main things that stand out in Advocate Phahlane’s judgements, is her promptness in delivering the judgements, with most judgements taking only about a month or two months to be delivered.

Advocate Phahlane regards her most significant contribution to the law to be her service to the poor in pro bono representations, which briefs she mainly accepts from the Legal Aid South Africa.

April 2021 Interview Synopsis:

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has nominated some strong women for appointment to the Gauteng High Court during this round of interviews — and Advocate Portia Phahlane is certainly one of them.

Her path to the judiciary caused commissioner Doris Tshepe to observe: “Your tenacity is quite remarkable”.

Growing up in Ga-Rankuwa, she and her siblings were raised by her grandmother who ran a shebeen to put food on the table. Phahlane’s mother worked as a live-in domestic worker.

With no money to pursue a tertiary education after completing high school, Phahlane worked as a clerk in a local school for seven years and then for four years as a receptionist at a medical center. A year at the Carousel casino proved “dangerous” and after “struggling to find work” she used her savings to register at Vista University for a B.Proc and then completed her LLB by obtaining and paying for student loans through what is now the National Student Financial Aid Scheme.

After graduating with an LLB in 2002, Phahlane’s financial woes did not evaporate. She told the commission how difficult it was to join the Bar as a black woman because “there was no work and no one to mentor you”.

Most work went to men, Phahlane said, adding that she had been “practising for 18 years and I have never received a single brief from the state attorney”.

During this period Phahlane’s source of briefs was Legal Aid South Africa. She supported her siblings and extended family and also started paying for their educations. To supplement her income she took to marking exam scripts and assignments at the University of South Africa — this expanded her knowledge of “new” fields of law which she had not been exposed to in her practice.

Phahlane had 76 weeks of acting experience in Gauteng, mainly in the criminal trial courts, and agreed that she needed more experience in Constitutional matters. She told the commission, however, that all court matters had a Constitutional element to them and that she was not sitting back and waiting for the more overtones to fall into her lap, but, rather, “preparing” herself in “anticipation” of that eventuality.

April 2021 Interview: