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Pretoria - A senior white judge, as well as white judges in general at the Pretoria High Court, have been dragged into the race row over the University of Pretoria’s association of former students.
AfriForum lawyer Willie Spies, who was recently elected to the TuksAlumni Association, was on Tuesday set on asking for an urgent court order gagging lobby group the Higher Education Transformation Network from bad-mouthing him in the media and in public.
Judge Cynthia Pretorius, the senior urgent court judge on duty this week, was to have heard the application. But the transformation network voiced its unhappiness with her presiding over the matter.
In a letter to Pretoria Judge President Dunstan Mlambo, the network asked that she recuse herself and that an “objective judge, alternatively a full Bench” (of three judges) be appointed to hear the application.
The network did not hide the fact that it would prefer a black judge to preside.
In the letter sent to Judge Mlambo at the weekend, the network said “AfriForum’s legal victories in this high court” potentially led the group to the assumption that there was “judicial sympathy” for AfriForum-associated lawyers from “white judges”.
The letter also said that as the case alluded to allegations of racism and discrimination, the group requested “an objective judge” to hear the matter.
On Tuesday morning, before the application was due to be called in court, the transformation network issued a media statement saying: “HETN, acting on behalf of its alumni members, condemns the unfair subjective conduct and concerted attempt by High Court Judge Cynthia Pretorius to unfairly prejudice the HETN’s legal defence in this application… ”
It was stated that Judge Pretorius, a University of Pretoria graduate, was already prejudiced against the network. The network added that it was preparing a “submission” to the Constitutional Court and to the justice minister to highlight the “potential complicity of white judges and the track record of AfriForum’s victories” in this (the Pretoria) court’s division.
Advocate Sibongile Nxumalo on Tuesday told Judge Pretorius he had instructions from his clients for her to recuse herself, as she was, as a graduate of the university, one of its alumni.
The judge responded that she had been at Pretoria University 40 years ago and did not belong to any organisation. But Nxumalo said the case was of national importance regarding transformation and it would be preferable to his clients to have a black judge hear it.
Judge Pretorius was unhappy about the fact that the network had called her prejudiced in a media statement even before the matter was called in court and several times called for any evidence showing that she was biased in the case.
She asked the advocate whether this was an attempt to “blackmail her” to which Nxumalo responded that “blackmail” was a bit strong.
“Coerce then,” the judge responded.
She questioned whether his clients felt a white judge was not objective and that was why they were asking for a black judge to hear the matter, to which the advocate replied “yes”.
Advocate Quintus Pelser SC, acting for Spies, took such strong objection to this argument that he asked Judge Pretorius to refer the conduct of the HETN members – of which one is a lawyer – to the Director of Public Prosecutions to decide whether there is a case to initiate criminal proceedings against them.
Pelser also asked that the conduct of the lawyer – Lucky Thekiso – be reported to the Law Society of the Northern Provinces.
Pelser said what HETN had stated in the press release and to the judge president was contemptuous of the Bench.
“They say there are two kinds of judges – objective judges and non-objective judges.
“On your decision rests the honour of this division. You should not succumb to threats,” Pelser told the judge.
Judge Pretorius will today indicate whether she will recuse herself from the case or not.