Pretoria - Black lawyers on Thursday turned up the heat on Judge Mabel Jansen when they descended on the high court in Pretoria demanding her impeachment.
The chorus for her dismissal echoed around the steps of the Palace of Justice as Black Lawyers Association (BLA) members slammed the judge for her alleged racist comments.
They expected the matter to be concluded in a shorter time, they said, than that of Judge Nkola Motata, who was convicted after crashing into the wall of a Joburg North property while drunk in 2007.
It was alleged that during his arrest following the crash, Judge Motata uttered racist statements. He was recorded as saying: “No boer is going to undermine me. This used to be the white man’s land, but it isn’t anymore.”
Judge Jansen was placed on special leave this week. She became only the second judge after Judge Motata to be placed on special leave. Judge Motata is still awaiting the resumption of his misconduct case.
Judge Motata was convicted and fined R20 000 and placed on special leave by then justice minister Jeff Radebe pending conclusion of the matter.
A misconduct case was made against him, but in 2014 the tribunal probing the complaint postponed the matter indefinitely until the Constitutional Court had ruled on the constitutionality of Section 24 of the Judicial Service Commission Act. The legislation regulates the conduct of judges and complaints thereof, among other things.
But two years on, the matter has yet to be heard in the Constitutional Court, and Judge Motata remains on special leave.
Judge Jansen overnight came under attack when comments she made in a private Facebook conversation were made public.
Among other things, she said that rape was part of black culture.
On Thursday the Cabinet joined the debate, strongly condemning the blatant racism displayed by some individuals in the country, particularly on social network platforms.
“Such behaviour goes against the ethos of our Constitution, enshrined responsibilities and values, and violates the rights of our people,” the Cabinet said after its fortnightly meeting. In particular, the Cabinet lamented the racist comments attributed to Judge Jansen as a senior member of the judiciary.
Judge Jansen made the comments in a private conversation with film-maker and activist Gillian Schutte last year.
The Judicial Service Commission confirmed it had received a complaint of misconduct against Judge Jansen.
Schutte later said she made the judge's comments public to expose the mindset of a person who was directly in charge of passing judgment on people whom she perceived as monsters and victims.
In one of the cases Judge Jansen presided over she had halved a 20-year sentence handed to a 17-year-old boy who had been convicted of raping a 5-year-old girl in Ermelo, Mpumalanga.
The girl was a regular customer at the shop where the boy worked, and on one of her visits, he pulled her inside and raped her.
Judge Jansen was presiding over the appeal against the sentence, and said she felt the initial sentence was too harsh for a person of his age. She reduced the term to 10 years.
The judge said it was perturbing that the magistrate had not taken into consideration the Constitutional Court judgment on children’s rights in terms of which sentencing of children ought to be a last resort.
A review of all criminal cases presided over by Judge Jansen which involved black people - especially those of rape and murder - was among the demands made by the Black Lawyers Association.
The association's demands were in the memorandum addressed to Judge President Dunstan Mlambo.
BLA leader Lutendo Sigogo said they commended and applauded the immediate placing of Judge Jansen on special leave by Justice Minister Michael Masutha.
“Now we demand that Judge Jansen resigns from her position with immediate effect... and an impeachment of Judge Jansen in terms of the Judicial Service Commission Act,” Sigogo said.
Judge Mlambo is out of the country, and his deputy Judge Aubrey Ledwaba sent court manager Jeanette Ngobeni to collect the memorandum. Ngobeni undertook to deliver it to Judge Mlambo.
The lawyers were in high spirits as they marched in their robes holding placards with messages such as “Jansen must Go”, “Racism is a crime to humanity”, and “BLA demands racism free judiciary”.
At one stage, they were joined by by ANC members from Mpumalanga who had come to the court for another matter.
Sigogo said the organisation did not expect Judge Jansen’s case to take as long as that of Judge Motata.
“The rules were changed in 2012. Judge Motata’s case happened prior to the change in 2007. The biggest hurdle in our efforts to have Judge Jansen impeached will be the commission’s investigation.”
He said they hoped that within six months to a year, the commission would have finalised the investigation into the allegations of misconduct against Judge Jansen.