Gender and Race in South African Judicial Appointments

Abstract

Although the obligation to appoint women as judges originates from the constitutional injunction to consider “the need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa,” gender transformation has lagged behind racial transformation of the bench. During the past four years, however, the lack of women appointees has become a more contested issue. This paper investigates the relationship between gender transformation and racial transformation of the judiciary in public debates around the judiciary. Despite the universally voiced concern about the lack of women judges, the most frequent and acrimonious public disputes continue to centre upon racial issues. The imperative to appoint women judges is often articulated as an alternative to appointing black judges, although the statistics show that the greatest need is for the appointment of black African women. Debates on gender transformation of the bench also remain premised on a formal notion of equality that focuses on numbers of women judges rather than on appointing male or female judges who are committed to challenging gender oppression. This means that the entrenched professional cultures, norms and structures that benefit men are left unchallenged.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The statistics are drawn from Law Society of South Africa (2014, 46) and Statistics South Africa (2013, 10). The table is drawn from (Albertyn and Bonthuys forthcoming).

  2. 2.

    As a percentage of all advocates for particular racial groups, white women account for 22 % of white advocates, African women 23 %, coloured women 45 % and Indian women 11.6 % of all Indian advocates.

  3. 3.

    Sonke Gender Justice, an NGO, has since asked for his dismissal as a magistrate. See Carstens (2014).

  4. 4.

    Clive Plasket, a white man, was seen as treated in a hostile manner while Nigel Willis had an interview regarded as superficial and amiable.

  5. 5.

    Three other prominent media stories on judges during this period have been the disciplinary action against black male judges, Hlope, Motata and Poswa.

  6. 6.

    Described as “a group of alumni of higher education and further education institutions committed to transformation of education” Hawkey (2013).

  7. 7.

    To ‘braai’ means to barbeque. The image is both a caricature of white male behaviour and a veiled reminder of the torture of black people under apartheid. On the one hand it refers to the stereotype of white South African men drinking together around a barbeque, while complaining about the incompetence of black people. On a deeper level, however, the image references the activities of a secret apartheid police unit which had its headquarters on a farm called Vlakplaas. According to testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission this unit abducted, tortured and sometimes murdered black anti-apartheid activists and often celebrated their successes by drinking around a braai afterwards (see Pauw 1997).

  8. 8.

    The Women Empowerment and Gender Equality Bill 50 of 2013 may provide an opportunity to lobby for the gender composition of the JSC itself to be more representative.

  9. 9.

    See http://www.dgrujudgements.co.za/ accessed on 18 November 2014.

  10. 10.

    Personal communication 7 July 2014.

  11. 11.

    Personal communication 24 June 2014.

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Acknowledgments

My thanks to Cathi Albertyn, Catherine Burns, Sarah Charlton, Natasha Erlank, Shireen Hassim, Caroline Jeannerat, Srila Roy and the anonymous reviewers of the article for helpful comments and to Jonathan Campbell, Katie Hindle, Vivienne Lawack, Tabeth Masengu, Mornè Olivier, Boni Meyersfeld, Engela Schlemmer and Kirsten Whitworth for sharing information.

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Bonthuys, E. Gender and Race in South African Judicial Appointments. Fem Leg Stud 23, 127–148 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10691-015-9285-5

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Keywords

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Judges
  • South Africa
  • Judicial Services Commission
  • Women judges