Judge President Mlambo accused of unethical conduct

Machaba Attorneys have accused Judge President Dunstan Mlambo (left) of receiving a gift from the University of Johannesburg’s vice-chancellor amid the ongoing court case between the institution and its fired former lecturer. Picture: Supplied

Machaba Attorneys have accused Judge President Dunstan Mlambo (left) of receiving a gift from the University of Johannesburg’s vice-chancellor amid the ongoing court case between the institution and its fired former lecturer. Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 24, 2024


JUDGE President Dunstan Mlambo has been accused of unethical conduct for receiving a gift from the University of Johannesburg’s vice-chancellor, Professor Letlhokwa Mpedi, amid the ongoing case between the institution and its former employee.

Mlambo is the Judge President of the North and South Gauteng High Courts, and Machaba Attorneys have raised concerns that his conduct impacted the two divisions from hearing the matter.

Machaba’s instructing attorney, Advocate Macgregor Kufa, said the matter was also before the Equality Court and claimed that Mlambo was not assisting in appointing a judge because the matter involved another judge.

In 2022, former University of Johannesburg (UJ) lecturer Lyness Matirizofa requested that Judge Phanuel Mudau to be investigated for unethical and unconstitutional conduct. This was after Mudau allegedly used non-existent facts to rule in favour of UJ. She said Mudau ruled in favour of UJ because he was close friends with the university’s former vice-chancellor, Professor Tshilidzi Marwala.

She said Mudau violated the Constitution and the code of Judicial Conduct.

Matizirofa, was axed for poor performance and gross dishonesty in February 2020. However, she said these were trumped-up charges, saying her dismissal was based on xenophobia and the fact that she has a disability.

She has been fighting her dismissal at various courts without success.

In a letter issued to the university’s legal representatives, Eversheds Sutherland (SA) INC, on February 23, Machaba requested the law firm to jointly approach the office of the Chief Justice to have the matter allocated to any other judge other than judges of the Gauteng Division and the Gauteng Local Division, or judges who are not related or conflicted in any way with UJ and its legal representatives.

UJ senior manager in strategic communications Lebogang Seale said Mpedi was a renowned internationally recognised scholar and leading academic.

Seale said Mpedi, in his capacity as vice-chancellor and principal, regularly hosts a diverse array of guests at the university. He said this ranges from government officials to industry leaders, alumni, donors, policymakers and community leaders.

“These engagements can be in the form of formal events or informal gatherings, including guest lectures, conferences and other engagements. As a gesture or token of appreciation, Prof Mpedi often presents guests with gifts, either on behalf of the university or in his personal capacity,” Seale said.

Mpedi gifted Mlambo his book titled “From The Baobab To The Mosquito”, Seale said, adding that it was worth noting that royalties of the book go to the Mpedi Family Scholarship for Studies in Neurodiversity.

When asked if this would not prejudice the case, Seale said: “No, this is further from the truth and far-fetched, at the very least; Prof Mpedi hosting Judge Mlambo had nothing to do with the court matter in question. The university respects the independence of the judiciary, which is essential for the administration of justice and the rule of the law.”

Eversheds Sutherland’s Nadia Froneman said the law firm, which represents UJ, disagree with “this as it is a preposterous allegation to make’’. Froneman said the judiciary is independent and to allege that Mlambo cannot perform his duties because he was hosted by ‘’our” client’s now vice chancellor, who is different from the vice chancellor when Ms Matizirofa was dismissed from the University, is, likewise, preposterous.

“Hosting Judge Mlambo had nothing to do with the pending litigious matters between the University and Ms Matizirofa, all of which arose before Professor Mpedi because the University’s vice chancellor.

“We, of course, deny that there is merit to Machaba Attorneys’ complaint and, indeed, that there is a story worth publishing in the Sunday Independent newspaper,’’ said Froneman, who also added their rights and those of their clients in respect of the litigious matters against Matizirofa, are strictly reserved.

Questions were also sent to Mlambo’s office but they did not respond.

However, Kufa insisted that this was unethical, saying a gift is a gift no matter how big or small it is. He said Mlambo, as the supervisor of the high courts, should have known better.

Machaba added that under Clause 6 of the Norms and Standards for the Performance of Judicial Functions (No 147, February 28, 2014, Norms and Standards), the Chief Justice was charged with the performance review of every judicial officer (including Mlambo and Mudau) to lend integrity and dignity to matters which have already been eroded of the little dignity they had due to the unconstitutional interference, particularly of Mudau, Marwala and Eversheds Sutherland.

The attorneys added that it was prudent for the office of the Chief Justice to allocate the matters to judges who are not in any manner compromised.

“The Preamble of the Norms and Standards is anchored on section 165 of the Constitution Act 108 of 1996 (the Constitution). In terms of Clause 4, the overall responsibility of managing judicial functions and overseeing the implementation of the norms and standards vests with the Chief Justice as Head of the Judiciary in terms of section 165(6) of the Constitution and section 8(2) of the Superior Courts Act 10 of 2013 (the Superior Courts Act).

“Clause 5.2.2 and 5.2.3 require the Head of Court to determine and assign the sitting judicial officers, sitting schedules and sitting places for judicial officers. Regrettably, because of the prologue on the interaction between the Judge President and UJ vice-chancellor, the former is thus disqualified from making such a determination because of his association with the latter, and hence the need to approach the Chief Justice’s office for guidance and assistance,” Machaba said.

On the other matter, the hearing of the Judicial Service Commission tribunal into allegations of gross misconduct against suspended Pretoria High Court Judge Tshifhiwa Maumela resumed on Tuesday.

This was after Mlambo laid a complaint against Maumela, saying he was guilty of gross incompetence and misconduct. In his evidence, Mlambo said it was “embarrassing” that the senior judge, who had a relatively light workload, had failed to hand down as many as 50 judgments within a reasonable time frame.

Mlambo also provided a list of blunders allegedly committed by Maumela.

The matter that was scheduled to proceed until March 22 has been postponed to May 27 after Maumela was hospitalised this week.