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Judge M V (Matsaro Violet) Semenya

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as a judge: 30 January 2017 (Limpopo High Court)
Gender:  Female
Ethnicity: Black
Date of Birth: 17 October 1961

Key judgments:

  • S v Linus 2015 (1) SACR 381 (GP)
  • MC v JC 2016 (2) SA 227 (GP)
  • S v Mdhluli 2020 (1) SACR 98 (LP)
  • S v TN and Others 2020 (1) SACR 633 (LP)
  • Thobejane and Others v Premier of the Limpopo Province and Another (1108/2019) [2020] ZASCA 176 (18 December 2020)

Candidate bio:

Judge Matsaro Violet Semenya was appointed to the bench in 2017. Prior to her appointment to the bench, she served as a magistrate for 26 years. Prior to her elevation to the bench, Semenya acted as a judge at the North Gauteng Division of the High Court in Pretoria and the Limpopo Division of the High Court in Thohoyandou.

During one of her acting stints in Pretoria, she reviewed the sentencing of a convicted drug-dealer in Linus v S. The dealer, a first-time offender, had sold units of powder containing methcathinone and methamphetamine to an undercover cop but had argued that in handing down a 25-year sentence, the magistrate in the lower court had overemphasised the interests of the community and not taken full cognisance of the dealer’s own circumstance.  Semenya disagreed with this argument and, pointing out the costs to the state (to investigate and prosecute dealers and respond to the effects of drug abuse) and families (spending their disposable income to rehabilitate drug users), upheld the sentence.

Thobejane v Premier of the Limpopo Province is a case concerning traditional leadership disputes which Semenya presided over in the high court. The Thobejane’s sought to set aside the Premier’s decision not to recognise them as traditional leaders. In response, the Premier raised a preliminary point of non-joinder (not citing the relevant people in the case). Semenya first dismissed the point of non-joinder and proceeded to hear the merits of the case. But in a bizarre twist, in her written judgment Semenya reversed the initial dismissal and now upheld the point of nonjoinder – dismissing the Thobejane’s case in its entirety. Realising her error, she granted the Thobejane’s leave (permission) to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal (instead of a full bench of 3 judges in Limpopo).

The SCA did not approve of this course of action, holding that the first order dismissing the point of non-joinder was final in effect, and therefore the high court was “not competent to revisit it.”  The SCA further felt “constrained to comment on the high court’s decision to grant leave to this Court”. The SCA commented as follows: “That leave to appeal was correctly granted is beyond question. The high court recognised the irregularity of its order of 17 May 2019. But as to why leave was granted to this Court, escapes me. There is nothing in the issues canvassed here which even remotely warrants the attention of this Court. No controversial legal principle was involved. … [T]he inappropriate granting of leave to appeal to this court increases the litigants’ costs and results in cases involving greater difficulty and which are truly deserving of the attention of this court having to compete for a place on the court’s roll with a case which is not. This must be deprecated.”

Semenya obtained a B.Juris from the University of the North in 1986 and an LLB from the University of South Africa (Unisa) in 2003. She worked as a prosecutor from 1985-1991, a magistrate from 1991-2003, a senior magistrate for a year, before becoming a regional magistrate in 2004. She was appointed as a judge to the Limpopo Division of the High Court, Polokwane in 2017.

April 2021 Interview: 

October 2016 interview

Interview synopsis: 

A large part of magistrate Matsaro Semenya’s interview was dominated by her handing down a five year suspended sentence to someone convicted of multiple violent rapes. The matter is currently being reviewed.

She told the Judicial Service Commission that she had been lenient after considering the effects a heftier sentence would have had on the children of the convict, but admitted that she had erred.

 Semenya agreed with Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo (who was sitting in for Northern Cape Judge President Frans Kgomo and representing the judges president) that adjudicating matters in the high court was very different from working in the magistracy since there were differences in the complexity of matters and the conceptual nature of the work.

On writing judgments promptly, Semenya said: “In the high court you procrastinate at your own peril”.

When asked about access to justice, especially for the poor and marginalised, Semenya said that this impacted on the work she did in the magistrates court. Semenya said that each day, before court commenced she would go through the court role, note the litigants who had travelled from the far-flung rural areas and who may be hamstrung by transport issues and ensure that their matters were heard first.

She said she would make a good judge because she “listens”, “doesn’t jump to conclusions” and “works and rewrites and rewrites” judgments. Semenya was nominated for appointment.