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Judge Nelisa Phiwokazi Mali

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as a judge: January 2016 (Gauteng High Court)
Further appointments: 2019 (transfer: Mpumalanga High Court) 2021 (retransfer: Gauteng High Court)
Acting appointments: 1 October 2022 – 30 September 2023 (Supreme Court of Appeal)
Gender: Female
Ethnicity: African
Qualifications: Dip. Iuris (1988) B. Iuris (1992) LLB (1994) (Walter Sisulu) LLM (Tax)(1996)(UCT)

Key Judgements:

  • A v Minister of Police (19296/10) [2014] ZAGPPHC 969 (8 December 2014);
  • Xyz (Pty) Ltd v Commissioner (14189) [2018] ZATC 11 (20 December 2018);
  • Association of Text Publishers of South Africa v S.A (89564/14) [2017] ZAGPPHC 144; [2017] 8 BLLR 850 (Gp); (2017) 38 Ilj 2253 (GP) (3 May 2017).
  • Panagiotopoulos v Liberty Group Ltd (3955/2011) [2014] ZAGPPHC 229 (25 April 2014).
  • Molefi v S (A887/2014) [2015] ZAGPPHC 484 (4 June 2015)

Candidate bio | Update October 2023

Judge Nelisa Phiwokazi Mali is a judge of the Gauteng High Court.

Judge Nelisa Mali holds the law qualifications Dip.Iuris, B.Iuris, and LLB from the Walter Sisulu University (formerly University of Transkei) (obtained in 1994) and an LLM in tax law from the University of Cape Town obtained in 1996.

During her studies, Mali worked as a legal clerk and public prosecutor with the Department of Justice. After graduating, Mali joined Mthata law firm Blake & Leppan as a candidate attorney and part-time lecturer at the University of Transkei.

An experienced tax specialist, Mali has had a long career in tax law in South Africa. She started as a junior tax consultant with Delloite & Touche (Feb – July 1999). She joined the South African Revenue Service as assistant manager in late 1999 until 2006, with a brief secondment to the National Prosecuting Authority’s tax prosecution unit (2003 until 2004).

Mali left government to start her own law firm, Nelisa Mali Attorneys in 2006. She later joined large Pretoria law firm Rooth & Wesells as a director of its tax practice (2006 – 2007). She went back to her own law firm from 2007 until her appointment as a judge of the Gauteng High Court in 2016.

As a judge, Mali was often allocated to the Tax Court section of the Gauteng High Court. There, she was instrumental in developing new rules to govern the court and its practices, including removing the requirement that assessors be appointed to all tax cases even when unnecessary, and minimum qualifications for assessors.

Mali wrote the judgment in Sasol Oil  v Commissioner: SARS, a tax dispute on whether back-to-back oil sale agreements between Sasol Oil and an off-shore company within the Sasol Group were simulated to avoid tax. The Commissioner argued that they were, while Sasol Oil denied this. After hearing testimony from several witnesses in a trial, Mali ruled that Sasol’s evidence of the agreements was not credible, that certain transactions under the oil agreements were simulated to avoid tax and ruled in favour of SARS. However, this judgment was reversed by a 3-2 split decision, with the Supreme Court of Appeal criticising Mali for making a ‘serious finding’ that witness testimony was not credible without a basis in evidence.

In 2019, Mali was transferred from Gauteng to become the first batch of judges to formally establish the Mpumalanga High Court. While there, she wrote several judgments on criminal law, and acted as deputy judge president.

Mali also acted as a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal for four terms from October 2022 to September 2023.

While there, Mali wrote the groundbreaking judgment in Stay Southpoint Properties v Cape Peninsula University of Technology, where she ruled that student accommodation does not constitute a ‘home’ for the purposes of the Prevention of Illegal Eviction and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act. This means that a university does not require a court order to evict students from university dormitories.

Mali was a member of the Black Lawyers’ Association from 1992 to 2015, and a member of the African National Congress at the same time. She was also member of the SA Women Lawyers’ Association from 2005 to 2016; a member of the Tax Committee of the Law Society of SA (2014 – 2016), and an elected councillor of the Law Society of the Northern Provinces (2013 – 2015).

April 2021 Interview:

April 2021 Interview Synopsis

A judge of the Mpumalanga High Court with a specialisation in tax affairs, Nelisa Mali is seeking a transfer to the Gauteng High Court for family reasons.

At the intervention of Gauteng Judge President and Economic Freedom Front MP Julius Malema, Mali told the Judicial Service Commission about a judgment which has done away with what she considered the unnecessary inclusion of ill-qualified assessors in adjudicating tax matters. Mali said there was a lacuna in the law with regard to the assessors, who sometimes sought to break the law by seeking to write judgments and that they were, in the main, a “waste of taxpayers money”.

Advocate Dali Mpofu SC asked Mali why qualified black female lawyers like herself were not part of the Davis Tax Committee. She said she did not know the reasons behind it, since she believed this was the prerogative of the ministers of justice and finance.

She did however tell the commission that she got into tax law because she wanted to pursue her first love, accountancy, through the law. Mali recounted how difficult it was to get articles at one of the established law firms which specialised in tax law.