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Judge N M Mbhele

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as a judge: 2016 (Free State)
Further appointments: Deputy Judge President | Free State Division (April 2021)
Gender:  Female
Ethnicity: Black
Date of Birth: 3 September 1973
Key judgments:

  • Royal Family of Amadlomo v Premier of the Eastern Cape (1944/2020) [2020] ZAECMHC 29 (23 July 2020)
  • Copper Sunset Trading 443 (Pty) Ltd v Centlec SOC Ltd (2189/2019) [2019] ZAFSHC 264 (15 November 2019)
  • S v Makhetha (R16/2020) [2020] ZAFSHC 94; 2020 (2) SACR 410 (FB) (14 May 2020)
  • Social Housing Regulatory Authority v Free State Social Housing Company and Others (1751/2019) [2019] ZAFSHC 240 (17 December 2019)

Candidate Bio:

The least experienced of the three candidates in terms of the length of time spent on the bench, Judge Mbhele was appointed to the Free State High Court in 2016. She has also served as an acting judge of the High Court of Lesotho and served two stints as acting Deputy Judge President during 2020. Prior to her elevation to the bench, she practised as an attorney, including a decade working for Legal Aid South Africa. During her time at Legal Aid, Judge Mbhele gained leadership experience by serving as a Justice Centre Executive and a Regional Operations Executive. She also served as a part time lecturer at Free State Technikon between 1999 and 2002.

Judge Mbhele’s judgments in cases involving rape and sexual violence often draw the attention of members of the JSC, and Judge Mbhele’s decision in S v JN may raise some eyebrows among commissioners. In this case, the accused had pleaded guilty and been convicted of the rape of a nine-year-old and was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Regional Court. On appeal, whilst emphasising that the Constitution gave “paramount importance” to a child’s best interests, Judge Mbhele found that there were substantial and compelling circumstances to justify deviating from the minimum sentence. These were that the accused was a first offender, first offender, he was 71 years old and the sole breadwinner of his family, he had committed the offence while under the influence of alcohol and shown remorse by pleading guilty. The chances of him reoffending were found to be slim. Judge Mbhele replaced the sentence of life imprisonment with one of ten years’ imprisonment.

In Royal Family of Amadlomo v Premier of the Eastern Cape, Judge Mbhele sat on an ad hoc basis in the Eastern Cape High Court to hear a challenge to the termination of the tenure of the Acting King of the AbaThembu nation. Judge Mbhele dismissed the challenge on procedural grounds, holding that the applicant had failed to show that it had the authority to institute proceedings, and that the President should have been joined to the application.

Judge Mbhele has been a member of the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges since 2016 and was a member of the Black Lawyers’ Association (BLA) prior to her appointment as a judge. While a member of the BLA, she served as National Treasurer between 2011 and 2013, and served two terms as Free State Chairperson between 2006 and 2010.

April 2021 Interview:

April 2021 Interview:

Judge Nobulawo Martha Mbhele’s April 2021 interview for the position of Deputy Judge President of the Free State Division of the High Court was successful. She was nominated for appointment.