Mbongeni Frederick Mathe was ordered to surrender his certificate of enrolment as an attorney.
Judgment in the matter was recently handed down in the Pietermaritzburg High Court.
In 2007, Mathe was sentenced to three years imprisonment for the theft. However, he appealed his conviction and sentencing.
The appeal court sentenced him to three years imprisonment, of which one year was suspended on condition that he repays the R10 000 to the complainants.
The theft charges arose when Mathe was employed as an acting magistrate in the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court.
In 2003, he had handled the estate of the late Sikhumbuzo Emmanuel Ndlovu.
After an estate inquiry, Mathe received R15 000 to distribute to the beneficiaries of the estate.
But he distributed only R5 000 to Ndlovu’s minor children and kept R10 000 for himself.
He then informed Ndlovu’s relatives and the mothers of the minor children that he would deposit the R10000 at the cash hall at the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court. But this was not done.
When Mathe failed to repay the money, the matter was reported to the Hawks, which led to his arrest and conviction.
At the time of the trial, Mathe’s defence said he had instructed a clerk to deposit the money. This version was rejected at the trial and by the appeal courts.
On the basis of this conviction and sentence, the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society made an application for Mathe to be struck off the roll of attorneys.
In the high court judgment dealing with the Law Society’s application, the judges said Mathe had indicated that he should not be struck off as he would be petitioning the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) to appeal his conviction and sentence. However, five years later this had not been done.
It was only at the enquiry of the Law Society’s attorneys that they learnt from the Registrar of the SCA that no such case was registered or pending.
“It is clear to me that [Mathe] was resting on his laurels, as the delay did not only afford him an opportunity to remain on the roll of attorneys, but also kept him away from the prison doors,” the judgment read.
In consideration of whether he was a fit and proper person, the high court said it considered various authorities and the nature of the misconduct committed, and whether Mathe lacked the qualities of an attorney.
“Theft is an act of dishonesty. The theft in this case was committed against three minor children who were deprived of the very little inheritance that their father left for them. The respondent had no reason to steal from the poor people,” the court found.
The judgment said the legal profession required people of honest and high moral standards.
“This court finds the respondent’s conduct to be at odds with what is expected from an attorney, whether practising or non-practising.”