THE judiciary got another woman leader on Thursday when the Judicial Service Commission recommended Judge Fikile Mokgohloa for deputy judge president of the Limpopo division of the High Court, SA’s newest court.
With Judge Mokgohloa’s appointment, there are now six women in leadership positions in the judiciary, out of a total 23. On Wednesday, the JSC also recommended Patricia Goliath as deputy judge president of the High Court in Cape Town.
Judge Mokgohloa spent most of her judicial career in the KwaZulu-Natal division of the High Court and in 2012 was nominated to be deputy judge president of that division, with the overwhelming public support of the judges of her court. However, the post was left vacant in that round after the JSC did not take kindly to the practice of judges lining up behind one or other candidate.
On Thursday Judge Mokgohloa told the commission she had moved to Limpopo in January. She appeared to impress commissioners when she said that her weakness was to get “irritated” when things were not done properly, giving as an example that she insisted her court start promptly at 10am, and that court staff needed to make sure everything was ready.
Commissioner Thandi Modise asked her how she navigated “difficult people” — people who used their age and gender to question her authority. She said she was a very direct person — “I talk to you, not someone else”. Her priority was to ensure the work was done; and then it was “fine” if anyone wanted to be difficult afterwards.
The other two candidates — Judges Frans Kgomo and Legodi Phatudi — had tougher interviews, especially Judge Kgomo, who was hauled over the coals by commissioners for a number of his answers.
In particular, commissioners Julius Malema and Thoko Didiza said a remark that he had made was sexist — when he said there was a shortage of women to appoint as acting judges because they had been poached by the public service and the BMWs and Mercedes Benz cars they could get there.
Judge Kgomo said his words were unfortunate but he did not mean to be sexist. He also apologised for the fact that his nomination — from his personal assistant and some of the court staff — was written on a judiciary letterhead, something Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said should only be used by judges.
Judge Phatudi also hit a sticky spot in his interview when he said he was not aware of an appeal judgment that had overturned one of his judgments — in “somewhat harsh and strident terms,” said commissioner Mike Hellens SC.
Mr Hellens said he was concerned that Judge Phatudi appeared not to read the law reports or follow what had happened with his judgments.
The JSC also recommended Gerrit Muller SC and George Phatudi to be appointed as judges to the Limpopo High Court.