Limpopo High Court officially opened

February 1st, 2017

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

On 29 November 2016 Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, advocate Michael Masutha, officially opened the Limpopo Division of the High Court in Polokwane. Limpopo is the eighth province to have a seat of a High Court. Mr Masutha said the opening of the High Court was important in the history of democracy of South Africa (SA).

Mr Masutha said the establishment of the High Court in the province is a fulfilment of SA’s democratic commitment to access to justice for all in the country. He added that the opening of the court defines a new era for the people of Limpopo. He noted that the Apartheid system of homelands resulted in a fragmented justice system and institutions.

Mr Masutha said the Limpopo province previously comprised of three administrations, namely, Venda, Gazankulu and Lebowa, all who were self-governing territories and only Venda had a High Court. The Lebowa and Gazankulu territories fell under the jurisdiction of the Gauteng Division, Pretoria (Transvaal Provincial Division in Pretoria, as it was known) until 25 January 2016, when the jurisdiction of the Gauteng Division, Pretoria extended over the Limpopo, the entire Mpumalanga and parts of the North West provinces, but it changed as a result of the enactment of the Seventeenth Amendment of the Constitution and the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013.

‘Today we bury that past and affirm the future in which an estimated 6 million people in Limpopo no longer have to endure the inconvenience and cost of commuting to Pretoria for High Court Services’ Mr Masutha said. He added that the Superior Courts Act also enables the rationalisation of the High Courts in the former homelands. He said that the old Thohoyandou High Court has now become the local seat of the Limpopo Division of the High Court, and its area of jurisdiction extends beyond the Venda territory.

Mr Masutha said Limpopo now boasts its own office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, offices of the Master and State Attorney, a local Society of Advocates, and Legal Aid South Africa has increased its footprint in the province. He added that the opening of the court has begun to attract legal expertise back into the province. He gave an example that the Judge President of the Limpopo Division and the Director of Public Prosecutions both hail from Limpopo province and in a sense led the campaign of Re bowa gae (homecoming), signifying that the people of the province are freed from bondage of the Gauteng Division.

Mr Masutha said on the date of its commencement of operations, the court took over 51 criminal trials and 43 appeal files from the Gauteng Division, he said that cases were already placed on the roll from the date the court commenced functioning and the first murder trial was finalised on 28 January 2016. He added that, since then a total of 116 criminal trials, 73 appeals and 16 reviews have been finalised.

Mr Masutha said there have been some positive outcomes in the civil roll where 1 947 cases out of a total of 2 988 registered had been disposed of. ‘This bears testimony of a court hard at work in dispensing justice,’ he added.

Mr Musutha noted that the official opening of the Limpopo High Court was part of the mission to embellish rule of law, one of the founding pillars of SA’s constitutional democracy. ‘The rule of law and access to justice are inherently intertwined, the presence of one is inconceivable in the absence of the other. Therefore, our efforts to expand courts in the rural areas should ensure equal protection and benefit of the law to all,’ he said.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said that the opening of the Limpopo High Court delivered the message that it is within the rights of the Limpopo people to enjoy access to speedy delivery of quality justice that has never been forgotten by the executive arm of the state, by the legislative arm of the state and not by the judicial arm of the state. Chief Justice Mogoeng said issues that were raised at the meeting underscored the importance of ensuring that not only does the department of justice deliver the court, but also make sure that the tools of trade are available to judicial officers and the support staff to make it happen. ‘It is also important to make sure these facilities are properly and regularly maintained,’ he said.

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

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2017 (Jan/Feb) DR 10.