The death of a magistrate sends shock waves through the legal fraternity

October 18th, 2023

On 23 September 2023, the country and the legal fraternity were shocked by the news of the tragic death of Regional Court Magistrate and Acting Judge in the Free State Division of the High Court, Mamello Thamae. It was reported in the media that the lifeless body of Ms Thamae was found in the boot of a car in Lesotho and her husband was arrested.

In a statement, the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), noted that the most vulnerable members of society experience justice in the magistrates’ courts. The statement said that the magistrates’ courts are at the forefront of dispensing justice to victims of gender-based violence (GBV), and therefore, the impact on society as a whole is even more pernicious. The statement added that the President of the LSSA, Eunice Masipa noted the statement made by Dr Olive Shisana, Co-Chair of the Presidential Summit Planning Committee, at the second Presidential Summit on Gender-based Violence and Femicide, ‘[a]s a country, we must double our efforts to prevent and respond to [GBV and femicide] and hold each other accountable to implement the [National Strategic Plan]. As a Planning Committee for the Summit, we are working hard to prepare for all to account for commitments made and accelerate and amplify implementation.’ The statement added Ms Thamae’s family, colleagues and the country have been deprived of a woman of strength, committed to making SA a better place.

The South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (SAC-IAWJ), released a statement, expressing sadness at the news of her passing. The statement stated that Ms Thamae had a sterling disposition. It pointed out that she was a hardworking, passionate, dedicated, and distinguished member of the judiciary who was committed to her professional duties as a Regional Court Magistrate and Acting Judge.

The statement added that the executive of SAC-IAWJ and its members are saddened that the scourge of GBV continues to increase and reiterated that the silence must be broken. The organisation said that South Africa (SA) continues to be one of the most violent countries in the world regarding the safety and protection of women and girls. SAC-IAWJ pointed out that in memory of Ms Thamae, the organisation reaffirms its commitment to promoting gender equality within the legal fraternity and advancing efforts to ensure the safety and well-being of all women and girls in the judiciary and society at large, especially assisting where GBV and femicide is concerned.

In another statement released by the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), the organisation applauds the South African Police Service (SAPS) working together with the Lesotho police in acting swiftly on the matter to ensure that the culprit was arrested. The BLA said that they were confident that once all the legal processes have been concluded to bring the culprit to SA, the South African courts will ensure that the wheels of justice turn faster and enable the bereft family to have peace and justice.

The BLA conveyed its message of heartfelt condolences to Ms Thamae’s family, her child, and friends. The BLA added that it is sad that while the BLA-Judicial Service Committee was finalising its pool of those who are ready when required to act as judges, a day before her passing, the organisation was already concerned about the shortage of women in the pool to become judges. The BLA added that Ms Thamae had devoted her life to the transformation of the legal fraternity, as well as the development of the legal system. They said that this can be seen through her role in the provision of training she conducted on behalf of both the South African Judicial Education Institute, as well as the BLA-Free State Legal Education and Research.

The WOZA Women in Law South Africa, in their statement, said that the high level of intimate partner violence/femicide in SA must be resolved and be given priority by all role players to root out the onslaught on women so that women and other vulnerable people can live and prosper in a safe environment and be free. The statement added that WOZA condemns all forms of GBV and called on the National Prosecuting Authority and SAPS, as well as the judiciary and the public to actively play their part to ensure that the key evidence is followed up swiftly.

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) in their statement said Ms Thamae made a significant contribution to the advancement of the legal profession in the Free State and contributed to the development of the legal system of our country, both as a woman in the community, and in the legal profession. The statement added that Ms Thamae was a long-standing member of SAWLA who reaffirmed the role of women in the community and in the legal profession. ‘We are indeed shocked and hurt by the tragic and inhumane manner in which one of our [own] met her untimely death. We as SAWLA condemn GBV and femicide, and we appeal to the judiciary, Department of Justice, law enforcement authorities, legal profession and all women and men of the Southern African region to take a firm stand with us against gender-based violence and femicide, which has become a pandemic on our beautiful African land,’ the statement added.

In a statement by Basadi ba Molao, the organisation stated that Ms Thamae was full of life and love, and her positive outlook always served as the cornerstone of who she was. The statement added that Ms Thamae leaves a legacy that is founded in goodness and honesty. The organisation added that regarding crime and protection of women and girls, SA continues to rank among the most dangerous nations in the world.

A night vigil was held in various courts across the country on 28 September 2023, with female legal practitioners calling for an end to GBV.

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

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