Chief Justice Zondo pleased with the successful completion on the training of future female judges

October 20th, 2023

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo gave the keynote address at the closing ceremony of the 2023 Aspirant Women Judges Programme on 20 September 2023 in Johannesburg. The closing ceremony comes after a year-long programme, in which selected women from the legal profession participated. This helped them acquire skills to equip them for their future when they become judges. The programme, which was the brainchild of then Minister of Justice, Brigitte Mabandla, was launched for the second time in the beginning of 2023, after it was first launched 15 years ago.

Retired Justice Phineas Mojapelo who led the programme gave a report of what they had done in the last couple of months together with the candidates and gave an overview of what the programme entailed. He began by stating his concerns regarding the fact that it took 15 years for the Aspirant Women Judges Programme to take place again after it was first held in 2007. He added that in 2021 the South African Judicial Education Institute (SAJEI) was ready to kickoff with training of candidates in 2022, however this did not happen.

Justice Mojapelo said that some candidates in the beginning were shy, however, as time went on, they became confident. He pointed out that as part of the theory that they did, candidates had to undergo practical training. Justice Mojapelo was pleased to announce that Judge Presidents from various divisions personally received and welcomed candidates in their respective divisions. He said that gratitude goes to all the Judge Presidents who not only welcomed the candidates, but also appointed a set of mentors in their respective divisions to mentor the candidates.

Retired Justice Phineas Mojapelo who led the 2023 Aspirant Women Judges Programme, with Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, at a media briefing that was held after the closing ceremony of the 2023 Aspirant Women Judges Programme in Gauteng.

Justice Mojapelo pointed out that candidates were requested to make reports on what they were exposed to and learned during their mentorship and said that they complied. Candidates, among other things, dealt with urgent court matters, unopposed court matters, judgment writing, as well as topics such as bail applications. Justice Mojapelo said that South Africa is not lacking experienced judges who are prepared to help others to acquires the skills to become judges. He pointed out that some candidates who go before the JSC have shown that they were not nearly ready to be judges. He asked that if there are so many judges who are prepared to assist candidates in preparing, why does the judiciary not seriously look at how they can prepare candidates before they go for JSC interviews. Some of the challenges Justice Mojapelo mentioned are:

  • The failure of the country to repeat something which worked, such as the Aspirant Women Judges Programme.
  • The failure of the Department of Justice and government to provide a stipend for candidates who come from private practise. Justice Mojapelo shared how six of the candidates who attended the programme, struggled financially because they had to leave practise so that they could attend the programme, and they did not receive any stipend. He said that others were still getting paid, such as magistrates. He pointed out that two of the candidates had to leave the programme and go back to work, because they have families’ dependent on them.

He suggested that the funds that the Department of Justice do not use, not be returned to National Treasury, but that it rather be used towards a stipend for the programme. Justice Mojapelo announced at the event that the Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Courts, had already indicated that all six candidates from Gauteng will be given acting judge posts in his division. Judge President of the North West Division of the High Courts, Judge Ronald Hendricks also announced, at a media briefing held after the function, that his division will also give acting judge posts to some of the candidates who attended the Aspirant Women Judges Programme.

Legal practitioner and Aspirant Women Judges Programme candidate, Jennifer Marion, spoke at the closing programme that was held on 20 September 2023 in Johannesburg.

One of the candidates of the Aspirant Women Judges Programme, legal practitioner, Jennifer Marion, spoke on behalf of all candidates at the closing ceremony. She expressed appreciation and gratitude for having been a part of the programme. She added that when they started in the beginning, there were many challenges trying to balance their practises, trying to balance work and family commitments. She said that balancing all that with what they have learned was immeasurable. She thanked the SAJEI team and Justice Mojapelo for giving them the opportunity to be a part of the programme and allowing them to stand on the team’s shoulders and rise up. She said that there many women have walked before them, and these were big shoes to fill. ‘But by allowing us to be a part of this programme, we know that we can at least try and follow these footprints, without falling,’ said Ms Marion.

Ms Marion pointed out that the first part of the programme was very intense and very challenging. She added that the candidates were being pushed, challenged and taught. She said that what the candidates learned was priceless and prepared them for the mentorship programme. Ms Marion thanked all the mentors who took part in helping them, adding that the mentorship was phenomenal.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said that despite the challenges in getting the Aspirant Women Judges Programme off the ground and the challenges that occurred during the programme for 2023, the programme reached the finish line. He said that the programme was conducted in 2023, the year that marks 100 years since the admission of the first woman as a legal practitioner in South Africa. He added that the judiciary has observed in many court ceremonies that were held in order to celebrate the progress that has been made in regard to women in the legal profession and in the judiciary, despite the fact that there is still a long way to go.

Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was the host of the closing ceremony of the 2023 Aspirant Women Judges Programme.

Chief Justice Zondo noted that he heard what Justice Mojapelo said about what the candidates of the Aspirant Women Judges Programme were put through to be prepared in case they are called to take acting appointments in the courts. ‘I was very impressed with the comprehensive nature of the training that you told us about. I never got a chance to attend a function such as this, when the first programme many years ago ended and, therefore, to hear for myself how comprehensive that training was, but this one was indeed very comprehensive,’ he said.

Chief Justice Zondo added that he was not surprised that a number of candidates have been offered acting appointments already. He said it was appropriate to thank Justice Mojapelo for the task that he had performed. He pointed out that the gender transformation of the judiciary remains as singularly important in the country. He added that without the cooperation of the Judges Presidents, the programme would not have been able to bear fruit.

Responding to concerns raised by Justice Mojapelo in regard to the challenges of the Aspirant Women Judges Programme, Chief Justice Zondo said he cannot say that the programme will happen every year from now onward. However, he assured Justice Mojapelo that as long as he is the Chief Justice, he will do all he can to make sure that the Aspirant Women Judges Programme continues in 2024. The Chief Justice pointed to funds as the obstacle to having the programme annually. He said that funding would help the programme run and also ensure that candidates coming from the private sector would be able to receive a stipend. He said that society must not always wait for government for assistance, that something should be done on a voluntary basis to make a contribution to help keep the programme ongoing.

Chief Justice Zondo thanked the candidates of the programme for availing themselves. He gave special thanks to those candidates who could not earn any income while they attended the programme. He acknowledged that it could not have been easy, but with perseverance they managed to finish the programme.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

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