The BLA pays tribute to the late Judge Moloi

September 1st, 2017

By Lutendo Sigogo

The sad news of the passing of Judge Khalipi Jake Moloi left the members of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) shocked and devastated. The BLA believes that Judge Moloi left us at a time when he still had much to offer to the judiciary and to the legal profession. He remained a good example of excellence and perseverance. The BLA observed this in the manner in which he applied himself throughout his legal career. After matriculation he attained a diploma Iuris and he started his legal career as a court interpreter. He grew within the system until he became a magistrate. Judge Moloi educated himself until he obtained two LLM degrees. He persevered with such determination that after practising on his own account for many years, in 2009, he was elevated to the Bench at the Free State Division of the High Court of South Africa (SA).

Much has been written about the leadership roles and public service of this stalwart through statements released by the office of the Chief Justice and the Co-chairpersons of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), among others. The statements mainly covered the life of Judge Moloi as a jurist. Judge Moloi was a fearless human rights activist throughout his adult life. The Free State was a ‘no go’ area for black and Indian people, as they were regarded as persona non grata by the Apartheid government. Against all odds, Judge Moloi opened his legal practice in the Free State and gave dignity to African people as his was the first black law firm in the Free State. All black practitioners who subsequently opened law firms in the Free State were trained by Judge Moloi during their articles of clerkship. Among these are, Judge President Mahube Molemela, Judge Elizabeth Mamoloko Kubushi and Judge Mpina Mathebula. It is through the success of those that he trained that we can now measure appropriately the amount of good work that he did.

After the declaration of the State of Emergency by the Apartheid regime in 1985 Judge Moloi’s firmness as a human rights lawyer was observed when his firm represented all the victims of brutality  including young children who were detained indefinitely under the emergency regulations and those charged under security legislation, in the then Orange Free State. Judge Moloi was a courageous lawyer who put the interest of his clients above all other considerations. His courage was fully distinguished as he led a delegation of the civic and mass democratic movement to Pretoria to negotiate with the then Minister of Police, Adriaan Vlok, for the release of school children. (This delegation was arranged by TV Matsepe, another BLA stalwart.) This action had the potential to bring heavy-handedness to himself and his immediate family by the Apartheid security agencies, but he chose to identify himself with school children and other victims of government brutality. Judge Moloi fought against the rule by law for the rule of law. He stood for equality before the law.

Judge Moloi was a visionary. He served two terms as President of the BLA. The LSSA was established under his BLA presidency. He played a pivotal role in transforming the Association of Law Societies into the LSSA and, thereby, paved the way for the beginning of the transformation of the legal profession as a whole. He was the Co-chairperson of the LSSA for the 1999/2000 term. Judge Moloi, as the President of the BLA, relentlessly advocated for replacement of the Attorneys Act 53 of 1979 by the new Act with the objective of changing governance and the manner of regulation of the profession. His efforts resulted in the promulgation of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA). He is, therefore, the champion of the LPA, who unfortunately did not witness the full implementation thereof.

During his Presidency at the BLA he crisscrossed SA visiting historically disadvantaged universities’ law faculties organising law students to form the BLA Student Chapter. This was a successful exercise given the fact that currently there is no university in SA without a BLA Student Chapter. Almost all of the current BLA leadership and chairpersons of provincial branches cut their teeth in the various BLA Student Chapters. As a result of his vision and efforts the BLA today boasts to be the mother body of the largest legal student chapter on the African continent.

Some of Judge Moloi’s major contributions in the early days of SA’s democracy were his participation in the healing of SA as a member of the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as the drafting of the Black Economic Empowerment Policy document as a member of the Black Economic Empowerment Commission chaired by Cyril Ramaphosa, the current Deputy President of SA. He proved that given an opportunity, black legal practitioners can compete on the world stage, when he was contracted by the European Union in Brussels to assist in regulating and improving international trade relations. He was the first black Chief State Attorney from 1998 to 2000.

As a sign of true patriotism, in 2009 he reluctantly accepted the appointment to the Bench at the age of 63, an age, when others are contemplating retirement. This was another contribution on his side to change the South African jurisprudence to reflect its people, in particular the majority within the four corners of the Constitution that empowers the judiciary to develop new law. Some of his seminal judgments in his short stint as a judge reflect this.

As the BLA, we are certain that if Judge Moloi was still a practicing attorney he would have led the BLA march, in July, to the Union Buildings when a memorandum on the plight of black legal practitioners was handed over to the Presidency (see p9). He expressed his support to the BLA march and lamented on the appalling conditions of black legal practitioners 23 years after democracy despite the major contribution of black legal practitioners in our struggle, some of whom also paid the ultimate price with their lives.

The BLA pays homage to this brave leader and stalwart of the BLA who spent his entire life in pursuit of equality and justice for all. In his quest for the realisation of the dreams of a black child, a black lawyer in particular, he either individually or as a member of a collective, disregarded the boundaries of Apartheid, perceived and/or real in order to achieve goals he set for himself. He found ways and solutions in many unmapped and unexplored terrains in the South African legal profession.

The BLA mourns the passing of Judge Moloi and the BLA finds comfort and solace in the knowledge that his life was not in vain. It was a life well-lived and fulfilled by serving the weak. Judge Moloi leaves behind a great legacy to all inherit and help take forward. He laid a foundation on which a stronger BLA of the future shall be built. His leadership defined the BLA in its first 40 years of championing the legacy of black legal practitioners and he is the cornerstone on which the foundation of the next 40 years of the BLA’s relevance and struggles shall be laid. Through his deeds Judge Moloi will forever live in our hearts.

The BLA extends our deep profound compassion and condolences to his close relatives, family and friends, his colleagues on the Bench and the entire BLA membership.

 Lutendo Benedict Sigogo, President of the Black Lawyers Association

 This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Sept) DR 14.