A battle of the sexes played out at Judicial Services Commission interviews on Tuesday, with a gay judge forced to defend her sexual

orientation.

Pretoria High Court Judge Anna-Marie de Vos and her colleague at the Bar, Judge Jeremiah Shongwe, were interviewed on Tuesday for the position of deputy judge president in the Transvaal Provincial Division.

The post has been vacant for a year because, although the commission interviewed applicants in April, it did not make a recommendation to the president after a complaint that there were no female candidates.

Applicants at the time included Judge Willie Hartzenberg, who has come under fire for his acquittal of apartheid chemical warfare expert Wouter Basson, Judge Willie Seriti and Shongwe, who has been acting deputy judge president since August.

Whereas Shongwe slid through a seemingly painless 30-minute interview, the commissioners grilled De Vos for more than an hour on everything from her sexual orientation to a spat with Judge President Bernard Ngoepe.

De Vos became a household name in South Africa four years ago when she and her partner Suzanne du Toit won a Constitutional Court case to be recognised as the legal parents of their two adoptive children.

Besides fending off questions about her decision not to live in Gauteng and her "straightforward and sometimes strict" nature, De Vos was also quizzed about her sexual orientation by advocate Silas Nkanunu.

Referring to the written questionnaire handed in by the judge, Nkanunu wanted to know whether De Vos was not concerned about the perception of other judges of the fact that De Vos had a woman "partner" and not a husband.

De Vos replied bluntly that she assumed all South African judges were committed to the provisions in the constitution protecting and ensuring equality. She couldn't see how her "lifestyle" would be a problem.

The constitution provides that the state cannot discriminate against someone because of sexual orientation. De Vos was also questioned about her commitment to remaining in Pretoria, given that she commutes to Knysna every weekend where she and Du Toit own a farm. She said that many judges commuted to their chosen places of work. She did not see it as a problem.

Ngoepe told the commission of a fight between the two in July over his appointment of Shongwe in the position of acting deputy judge

president. Ngoepe said he had taken exception to De Vos's accusation that he had put Shongwe "at an advantage" over her.