Address by the Deputy President Ms Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka at a Gala Dinner for the Launch of Training Programme for Aspirant Women Judges, Johannesburg
Honourable Chief Justice, Pius Langa
Honourable Chief Justice, Dikgang Moseneke
Honourable Members of the judiciary and magistracy
Honourable Minister Mabandla
Honourable Deputy Minister De Lange
Judges, magistrates, advocates, lawyers and members of the legal fraternity
Ladies and gentlemen
I am truly grateful for the privilege to participate in this event launching the training programme for aspirant women judges. I thank Chief Justice Langa and Minister Mabandla for the kind invitation to join you here tonight at this gala dinner to mark the launch of a special programme to accelerate the appointment of women to the bench.
It is indeed right that this important launch takes place during Women's Month, both to celebrate the strides we have made in this country to advance the cause of women and to rededicate ourselves to redouble our efforts to make a positive impact on the lives of women in all sectors of our society.
We have come a long way since the appointment of the first South African woman judge Justice Leonora van de Heever in 1969. We have all, in government and in the judiciary and magistracy, worked tirelessly in the last twelve years of our democracy to undo the thread of injustice that was deeply embedded in our society's makeup. However, to succeed in our efforts, we all have to continue to work together. In her opening address at the 2005 Colloquium on the Transformation of the Judiciary, Minister Mabandla noted that the "challenge before us is how do we, as various components of government, severally and together, work towards the transformation, of the judiciary.
More importantly, is how we accelerate the pace of transformation to make transformation possible and how indeed we work together to achieve the same goal. This also raises a question of the relationship between the Judiciary, the Executive and Parliament. "Ours is indeed a developmental state and there is therefore a need for the three branches of government to fully participate in our efforts to build a successful country. As the then Deputy Chief Justice and now Chief Justice Pius Langa pointed out during a Judicial Service Commission interview in April 2005, "the issue of transformation should be located not just in the judiciary itself but it is a wider issue and it involves the whole of South African society."
Indeed we are all partners in the government's efforts to make a positive impact on the lives of all South Africans. It is therefore pleasing that the judiciary and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development are working closely together, without usurping the principle of separation of powers, to find ways to accelerate the transformation process within the judiciary.
Ladies and gentlemen
There is general consensus that in order to address the problem of a judiciary that is still predominantly male (as of June 2007, of the 203 judges only 33 were women), part of the solution lies with a re-look at the source for candidates for the bench. Of course one of the reasons for this is that there is a small pool from which judicial appointments are made. The bar, the traditional source for candidates for the bench, is not doing any better in terms of the number of women lawyers. If therefore the natural progression from the bar is to continue to be the only feeder for the Bench, then the transformation process would take even longer.
In the same April 2005 Judicial Services Commission (JSC) interview, I have previously mentioned, Justice Langa remarked that "in order for instance to increase the pool of people from whom judges should be appointed, firstly you do need a larger pool. You do need the involvement of other people other than judges themselves or aspirant judges whom we know. One would have to, or one needs to restructure training aspects, training starting from universities themselves."
Through this training programme for aspirant women judges that we are launching tonight, women practitioners with potential to be appointed as women judges will be identified, enrolled and be exposed to a specially designed judicial education programme to enhance their opportunity for appointment to the bench.
Ladies and gentlemen
I believe that we also need to acknowledge that while the problem may be with the small pool that feeds the bench, it is possible that problems also lie with some of the barriers that women legal practitioners, not only face within the judiciary and the magistracy, but also within the legal profession. Those who successfully enter the profession face additional obstacles with regard to finding sufficiently challenging and rewarding work, not only to sustain their practices, but to help them grow financially and professionally. This is a point that Chief Justice Langa also made during his interview, observing that "Many young legal graduates get attracted to other forms of endeavours because they sometimes do not find a home within the legal profession itself. We need to change that."
What we are saying is that the appointment process of judges should be made more women-friendly. So that women would find the judiciary attractive as a profession. For example, Judge President's in the various divisions have the authority to select acting judges. More women need to be appointed as acting judges as this experience would stand them in good stead, and could assist in their being appointed as judges. Furthermore, acting as a judge in a specialised court, for example the Labour Court does not carry the same weight as being an acting judge in a non-specialised court. Equal opportunity should be given to acting judges from specialised courts.
In addition we need to strengthen our support to judges who often have to work after hours writing up judgments. Judges also need to contend with a backlog of cases. Judges and in particular women judges could be supported so that their conditions are more women friendly. Many women have family responsibilities and a simple gesture of providing a laptop means women can work from home, instead of having to spend long hours at night at the office.
In conclusion, Programme Director, I want to congratulate Chief Justice, Pius Langa, Minister Mabandla and the team involved in making this programme a success. Best wishes to all the aspirant women judges. Together, we are building a judiciary that reflections our Constitutional values.
I thank you.
Issued by: The Presidency
16 August 2007