Meyiwa trial judge blasts black lawyers for disrespecting courts

Senzo Meyiwa murder trial Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng criticised the conduct of black lawyers. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Senzo Meyiwa murder trial Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng criticised the conduct of black lawyers. Picture: Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 21, 2024


Senzo Meyiwa murder trial judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng has blasted black lawyers for poor conduct and disrespecting the courts.

As the murder trial resumed, the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, was informed that proceedings would have to continue in the absence of advocate Thulani Mngomezulu, the legal counsel for first accused Muzikhawukhulelwa Sibiya.

State advocate George Baloyi was at his wits’ end as he tried to explain that he had been informed by the legal counsel that he would not be present as he was held up with another matter he had attended to on Tuesday that had been rolled over to Wednesday.

Baloyi told the court that Mngomezulu had indicated that the court could proceed with the two State witnesses, namely the photographer and the interpreter, in his absence as he did not have any issues with their evidence.

This news, however, was not welcomed by Judge Mokgoatlheng, who complained of the poor conduct of black lawyers specifically within the country’s courts.

“Is this how black lawyers behave? How can you tell a judge that you are unable to proceed today because the two witnesses coming he has not issue with. He still has to read the evidence, prepare and then come here.”

Baloyi tried to assure the judge that Mngomezulu had indicated once more that he had no issues with the evidence to be heard. However, the judge questioned why he had not been directly contacted instead.

“Why did he not phone me? Is this what a counsel or an advocate who has ethical standards does? You know when the Judge President said I should take this case he told me that this matter has problems and I agreed to take it.

“So I must do the same thing, inherit the problems which happened before I sat here and associate myself with those problems where counsel tells you, you can go to hell, judge, I’m not coming today. I am coming tomorrow because the matter which I was handling on Tuesday overstepped the limit, so you can go home.”

The judge went as far as indicating that he would not have even come and requested the Deputy Judge President to call another judge to come and explain things to them instead.

“If he (Mngomezulu) had phoned me, I would not have driven from Krugersdorp to come here when he says he does not have a problem with evidence being led today. In the meantime, I would be doing some work, going through the evidence of this case for eight months now.

“Now I drive like a fool from Krugersdorp, and when I come here I’m told this by you and the registrar. The attorney or advocate involved doesn’t even phone me. You know today you can even send an SMS or WhatsApp if he doesn’t want to talk to me,” he added.

The judge asked each of the legal counsels, in turn, if ethics were still taught to aspirant legal professionals at university, something which they insisted was still being taught.

Following this, a decision was taken to proceed with the evidence of the photographer and interpreter.

Five men are currently on trial for the October 2014 murder of the Orlando Pirates soccer player at the family home of his then girlfriend, Kelly Khumalo, in Vosloorus in what has been described as a botched robbery.

All five men have pleaded not guilty. The trial continues on Friday.

Following the comments expressed by judge Mokgoatlheng regarding advocate Thulani Mngomezulu’s conduct and black lawyers in the country, the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) has requested an engagement with the Judge President and the judge should he be amenable.

The association’s president Nkosana Mvundlela, said they were taken aback by the comments made by the judge for opting to question a lawyer’s conduct to the extent of dragging race into play.

“The conduct of that lawyer whether he behaved ethically or unprofessionally has nothing to do with him being black, white, Indian or coloured. We believe all lawyers are taught the same ethics and out of those we expect all of them to behave as they have been trained.

“We find that very unfortunate and we hope the comments made by judge Mokgoatlheng does not hold true of his beliefs of black lawyers as he is a black lawyer himself.”

Mvundlela said the crux of their concerns comes from the concern that the comments expressed by Mokgoatlheng may have long-term ramifications which would result in members of society losing confidence in appointing black lawyers when they had a problem.

“We are unhappy with any person who speaks of conduct and wants to racialise it especially not as the country commemorates Human Rights month. We fought so hard for the rights in this country but now we have someone of such stature resorting to racial comments which is extremely disappointing,” he stressed.

The Star