KWAZULU-Natal regional court president Eric Nzimande has been paid over R6.3 million since he was suspended in 2018 while the Magistrates Commission’s inquiry into allegations of misconduct still has not started.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola revealed that Nzimande’s total remuneration since his suspension now stands at more than R6.3m and that the matter has still not been concluded and the hearing has still not commenced.
Lamola said in a written response to National Freedom Party MP Ahmed Munzoor Shaik Emam: ”The cause of the delay can be attributed to a number of challenges. At its meeting held on August 31, 2018, the Magistrates Commission resolved to charge Mr Nzimande with misconduct.
“He was personally served with a charge sheet on September 4, 2018.”
According to Lamola, his predecessor, Michael Masutha, based on the commission’s recommendation, suspended Nzimande from office in October 2018 and his provisional suspension was confirmed by both the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces.
Nzimande responded to the allegations of misconduct against him and denied all the allegations.
He has been charged with unlawfully and wrongfully victimising and or sexually harassing a woman acting regional magistrate by making subtle sexual advances to her and/or calling her into his office, asking her to sit on his lap while talking to her and/or indicating that she was indebted to him for her job.
Nzimande was personally responsible for her receiving the position as acting regional magistrate and/or attempted to coerce and pressure her into engaging in a sexual relationship with him and/or consistently discussed his personal circumstances such as who his sexual partners were and the activities in which he engaged with them.
He also consistently told her of other magistrates who were willing to engage in sexual favours in return for employment perks, sent a picture of his genitalia via cellular phone to her and this conduct violated her right to integrity of her body and personality.
The incidents occurred between 2012 and 2015.
Nzimande is accused of receiving numerous payments into his bank accounts from a person who was a clerk of the court and a prosecutor within his regional division.
He also received numerous payments from attorneys, which were deposited into his bank accounts either prior to, or after their respective approved acting appointments.
Between 2012 and 2016, Nzimande approached the minister of justice recommending the acting appointment of a number of attorneys to act in the regional courts under him.
The inquiry into Nzimande’s misconduct has been hit by several delays.
In December 2018, a senior National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) advocate was appointed as a person leading evidence but retired and was not willing to provide further assistance.
The NPA then released another senior advocate to assist as a new person leading evidence but the advocate withdrew in February 2021. In June of that year the regional magistrate appointed withdrew as he would be retiring last year and the disciplinary hearing would not be finalised by the time he vacated office.
Another senior magistrate requested to withdraw from hearing the matter in August 2021.
Lamola said: ”The commission found it difficult to find a presiding officer within the ranks of magistrates owing to Nzimande’s rank as regional court president and seniority.
“The commission then resolved to appoint a retired judge to preside over the disciplinary hearing as the Regulations for Judicial Officers in the Lower Courts, 1994, were amended on 29 October 2021 to also make it possible to appoint a judge for purposes of a misconduct hearing.”
He added that the appointment of a judge to preside over the misconduct hearing would enable the commission to proceed with the matter.
”It is, however, difficult to specify any date. I have been informed that the commission will ensure that as soon as the presiding officer is appointed, that the hearing takes place without any further delay,” said Lamola.
Maritshane Finger, secretary of the Magistrates Commission, acknowledged receipt of questions from the Sunday Independent but did not respond further.