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Judge Mjabuliseni Isaac Madondo


Another returning candidate for the deputy judge president position, another judge mired in the race tensions within the KwaZulu-Natal Bench.

Madondo initially caused controversy when he went up against former KZN Judge President Chiman Patel for that position in 2011. Prior to that round of interviews, an unsigned letter from the Pietermaritzburg branch of the Black Lawyers Association accusing Patel of being an “anti-Black African” racist was sent to the Judicial Service Commission. The commission ignored the letter, and its spokesperson, Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC described it as an “aberration”.

But the tone had been set, when asked by then-commissioner Koos van der Merwe whether the time was not ripe to appoint an “Indian” as judge president, Madondo responded: “I don’t think so. We still have things to address – imbalances, all kinds of things, which need more insight, which a person who is not [a black] African cannot be privy to.”

Naturally, race again dominated Madondo’s unsuccessful October 2015 interview for this position – as did questions about whether the commission should consider appointing a much younger person to a leadership position on the Bench.

This will be Madondo’s fourth tilt at the deputy judge president vacancy – he was twice rejected by the commission in 2012.

Some of Madondo’s more high profile cases have included Constitutional issues. In 2013 Uruguayan business Gaston Savoi – who is facing corruption, racketeering and fraud charges related to alleged dodgy procurement deals with the KwaZulu-Natal Health Department — asked the high court to declare the definitions of “pattern of racketeering activity” and “enterprise” in the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA) unconstitutional and invalid, on the grounds of vagueness and over-breadth.

Madondo rejected the constitutional challenge, save for findings of unconstitutionality in respect of certain provisions to the extent of the inclusion of the words: “ought reasonably to have known”, which were declared unconstitutional and invalid to that extent. The Constitutional Court rejected Savoi’s appeal and declined to uphold the High Court’s findings of invalidity.

Interview Synopsis:

Madondo was another candidate returning from a bruising encounter with Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema during last year’s October interviews for the same position. While his colleague was quizzed on the “Indian Question” in KwaZulu-Natal and the perception that people of Indian descent dominated the legal, political and economic spheres, Madondo was pushed by Malema about his age – and whether the division’s leadership required an infusion of young blood.

An argument that — to cynics — began to make sense as Madondo answered questions in the sort of plodding, stilted manner that  had those still awake glancing at their watches.

Madondo conceded that he had not acted in an administrative role as a judge. He singled out limited access to justice “due to poverty and a lack of education which meant people were not aware of their rights and remedies” as issues that required immediate attention. Suggestions he made to remedy this, included outreach education programmes for citizens, improved legal services for “people without legal knowledge coming to court” and ensuring that courts were more “user-friendly” for abused women and children and elderly people.

A common thread in all the interviews for the deputy judge president position was the matter of judges not subscribing to minimum norms and standards regarding delivering judgments promptly. In in many instances it would appear slack or spiky judges have argued that the requirements infringe on their “judicial independence”.

Asked by Judge President Achmat Jappie how he would deal with this, if appointed, Madondo said  he would sit down with the judges and explain the benefit and context of dealing expeditiously with judgments: “The mere fact that they are independent doesn’t mean they have to be indolent… creating a problem and defeating the system.”

Madondo has been involved in race issues before the Judicial Service Commission before (see profile below) – expressing string views that Black Africans were required to be included in the leadership of the KZN Division.

Citing the KZN Advocates for Transformation (AFT) submission to the JSC that, with Jappie defined as “coloured” and fellow contender Shyam Gyanda  of Indian descent, it was imperative that the commission consider appointing a Black African, Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza SC asked Madondo to comment.

“If you want to achieve equal and equitable representation of all sections often population, [the AFT submissions] must be taken into account,” said Madondo.