[Media Statement] Judges Matter condemns Julius Malema’s comments against Magistrate Twanet Olivier
22 October 2023
Comments calling magistrate corrupt and incompetent without substantiation are an attack on the judiciary and a violation of the Constitution.
Judges Matter condemns, in the strongest terms, the comments made by Member of Parliament and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Mr Julius Malema, accusing Magistrate Twanet Olivier of corruption and incompetence without any substantiation. This is an attack on the judiciary, a threat to judicial independence, and almost certainty a violation of the Constitution.
Mr Malema is currently standing trial for the discharge of a firearm in public. Speaking shortly after the delivery of the judgment on his unsuccessful application for a discharge from his criminal trial on Thursday (19 October 2023) in East London, Mr Malema accused Magistrate Olivier of wrongdoing in how she prepared and delivered her judgment. None of his claims were substantiated, nor did he offer any evidence to corroborate them. Notably, Mr Malema said nothing about the legal merits of the judgment. It’s therefore hard to see Mr Malema’s utterances as anything but an attack on Magistrate Olivier as a judicial officer, and the institution of the judiciary. It is also not the first attack against Magistrate Olivier, following a similar outburst after she dismissed a recusal application in February this year, which Mr Malema did not appeal.
While the comments of the nature uttered by Mr Malema would not be acceptable coming from anyone, they are even more damaging coming from someone of his stature. Mr Malema, as a member of Parliament, has sworn an oath to protect and promote the Constitution. He has a legal, ethical and constitutional duty, in terms of section 165(4) of the Constitution, to take all measures to protect the judiciary. Furthermore, section 165(3) prohibits anyone, through their words or actions, from interfering with the judiciary in any way.
Although judicial officers are not beyond any criticism, such criticism must be substantiated and measured. Indeed, reasoned criticism is one of the vital ways to hold judicial officers accountable for their constitutional mandate. However, egregious, unsubstantiated statements do nothing but undermine the respect, integrity, and independence of the judiciary. Mr Malema, who has served as a commissioner on the Judicial Service Commission for almost 10 years, should be well aware of this.
Mbekezeli Benjamin, researcher at Judges Matter, adds: “Because judicial ethics restrain judicial officers like Magistrate Olivier from challenging attacks such as Mr Malema’s comments, Judges Matter comes out strongly in defence of judicial independence. Left unchallenged, Mr Malema’s comments will send a chilling message to other judicial officers that they should not dare issue judgments against powerful figures who command a large audience. We call on Mr Malema to immediately retract and apologise for his unfortunate comments.”
About Judges Matter:
Judges Matter is a civil society project dedicated to monitoring the South African judiciary to ensure transparency and accountability. Based at the Democratic Governance and Rights Unit at the UCT Law Faculty, Judges Matter conducts applied research and advocacy to monitor the appointment of judges and magistrates, their discipline for misconduct, and how the judiciary is governed and administered.
More information is available on www.judgesmatter.co.za and on Twitter: @WhyJudgesMatter.