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Pretoria - After battling for more than 10 years for justice, a former magistrate has scored a victory against the government with the Pretoria High Court awarding him more than R9.4 million in damages for constructive dismissal.
Machiel Erik Reinecke was a top regional court magistrate who had won many awards during his career. He earlier told Judge Cynthia Pretorius that the former chief magistrate of Randburg, Cedrick Booi, made his life such a misery that he had no choice but to resign.
Being a magistrate was his passion, Reinecke told the court, but the fact that he was being victimised and unfairly discriminated against by the head of the office, had left him with no choice but to resign.
To make matters worse, he was no longer used as a magistrate after he voiced his grievances, but made to do administrative work.
Even in his letter of resignation, Reinecke stated that he would stay on and do what he was good at and loved, if someone bothered to pay heed to his grievances.
In her judgment, Judge Pretorius said: “It is clear that at the time he [Reinecke] resigned, he was at the end of his tether. The defendants [the president, justice minister and Magistrates’ Commission] were not expediting his grievances in any way.”
Reinecke, who now lives in Pretoria, was so disheartened that he left the law profession and is now in the construction industry.
“My heart still lies in the law, but things are just not the same anymore and the system seems to be worse now than before,” Reinecke told the Pretoria News.
“I will perhaps consider going back if I receive a position as a senior magistrate.”
In May 2001, Reinecke was transferred from the Germiston Magistrate’s Court, to be a relief magistrate at the Randburg Magistrate’s Court.
In terms of the agreement this was done at the State’s expense, and in terms of a Justice Department circular, relief magistrates were entitled to travel expenses.
Reinecke was at the time living in Rustenburg and had to travel.
Booi, as head of the office, however, refused to sign the forms and the department, as a result, refused to pay Reinecke’s expenses.
The magistrate lodged a grievance with the Magistrates’ Commission, but it was dismissed. After this, Booi only deployed Reinecke to perform administrative duties - despite the fact that he had, prior to that, won numerous awards for his outstanding work as a magistrate.
This was also despite the fact that the Randburg court desperately needed magistrates.
Reinecke said he suffered substantial financial hardship as a result of not being paid his subsistence and travel allowance.
Booi also in no way assisted him to resolve the problem.
Reinecke eventually had no choice but to resign.
Two of Booi’s seniors then launched an investigation into his conduct.
Their finding was that Booi’s management style “is that of an old apartheid manager”.
“He does not consult. He does not ask. He does not say thank you. He gives orders and if you dare to differ then the hell with all its fury will come down on you.”
Judge Pretorius said Booi’s actions were clearly to punish Reinecke for daring to lay a grievance.
He also wanted to humiliate Reinecke by making him do administrative work, while he was appointed to do judicial work.
She added that Booi unfairly discriminated against Reinecke and he had no choice but to resign.
In awarding the damages, the judge took into account how much money Reinecke had lost - including if he had during this time been promoted to senior magistrate status. Reinecke said the judgment was a great relief to him. “I can now make up what I have lost,” he said.
The judge also ordered the government pay him 15.5 percent interest on the R9.4m, backdated to September 2004.
This alone will run into millions.