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Malema’s questions for judges at the JSC interviews

Malema’s questions for judges at the JSC interviews

Malema’s questions for judges at the JSC interviews

As one of the more challenging individuals making up the 23 JSC members, Julius Malema seldom fails to disappoint the spectators at the JSC interviews with his knack for putting candidates in the hot seat. While other JSC commissioners will stick to more conventional lines of questioning, asking about a candidate’s work experience and their understanding of the law, Malema’s questions can often come a little out of left field…

When Julius Malema asks about white supremacy in the JSC interviews, the white candidates often turn even whiter – and sometimes a little green too. He has the tendency to ask the question as part of a particular sequence relating to traditional marriage, customary law and indigenous languages.

Here is one example from the JSC Interview of Advocate Topping for the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court in October 2016:

Malema: The concept of white supremacy – I want to know from you what is white supremacy?

Topping: The concept as I understand it is, white people subjugating other races and treating them as lesser persons.

Malema: Now, by not knowing the languages of the people you grew up with, their customary marriage and different cultures – would that amount to white supremacy?

Topping: Again I don’t know how to answer that because, again I emphasise, I only had that exposure up until his age of 12 when quite honestly I was a child.

Malema: No, I am no longer talking about that – that one we agreed you and me, you will no longer repeat it again that you grew up with them because you didn’t grow up with them – that one we are done. Now we are on a different topic of white supremacy. When you think less of other people, you don’t care about their languages, you don’t care about their cultures, you just don’t care about them.

Topping: I agree with you about that as a concept, but if you ask me if I’ve ever done that, the answer is no, most definitely no.

Malema: But you’ve just done that, because you not knowing our customary marriages borders on white arrogance and white supremacy.

There are two puzzling things about the line of questioning. The first is that it is allowed at all, given that speaking an indigenous language is not in fact a criteria for appointment as a judge. (We have to wonder whether Julius would accept Afrikaans as an indigenous language or not?)

The second is that no candidate has yet pushed back on the logic of the question, nor questioned its premise. The logic appears to be that if you do not speak an indigenous language, you have done so because you regard it as inferior. If you regard indigenous languages as inferior, then one can surmise that you regard indigenous people as inferior. Thus, you are a white supremacist.

Most lawyers learn the languages they must. We are lawyers, not linguists. Many of the older lawyers battled on through Cicero, and the Institutes of Justinian, not because we loved the language and thought of the Roman Empire as superior, but because we had to.

Equally with Afrikaans. Studying Afrikaans was required as part of studying law.

Apparently what lawyers are, is obedient to the law. That sounds about right. Currently, an indigenous language is not required. It is a matter of law, rather than ideology. Lawyers that obey the law, and not one jot or tittle more, are not the most inspiring thing ever, but one cannot simply dismiss their lack of linguistic capabilities as white supremacy.


Read the full transcript of the JSC interview of Advocate. I L Topping SC for the KwaZulu Natal Division of the High Court. 

Watch the JSC interview of Advocate. I L Topping SC for the KwaZulu Natal Division of the High Court.

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