Judicial Conduct Tribunal hearings on a complaint lodged by Justices of the Constitutional Court against Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe began on Monday morning.
The long-awaited tribunal comes 12 years after the complaints were lodged against the judge, who also faces the possibility of a separate impeachment inquiry for other incidents.
Hlophe is accused of trying to influence Constitutional Court judges in a case involving former President Jacob Zuma.
“Sesithembele kunina” a simple yet complex phrase that holds power over the future of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
Researcher and language expert Professor Langalibalele Mathenjwa took the stand and was cross-examined by legal representatives of the ConCourt justices as well as those representing Judge Hlophe. He was called to testify on a report he wrote on the meaning behind the phrase Judge Hlophe uttered to Judge Christopher Jafta, first examined by Hlophe’s attorney Advocate Courtney Griffiths.
Cross-examination of Language expert:
Witness Professor Langalibalele Mathenjwa says, “I had to test the level of the people who were actually involved in the conversation, look at their previous history and the relationship that existed within them. If you take the phrase as it is, it can mislead you.”
Mathenjwa, who chairs the isiZulu National Language Body, said there was no evidence that the phrase was intended to influence the judge. He adds that according to his analysis of the conversation as recounted by Judge Jafta, the phrase loosely translated as “You are our last hope” was instead intended to show his faith in the justice system.
“Though he was not the first language speaker of IsiZulu, he could conceive that he meant they were their last hope. Judge Hlophe says they are their last hope as the highest court in the land.”
Advocate, Gilbert Marcus, who represents some of the justices opposed this.
“I won’t delay the point, but I put it to you, you cannot tell us how he understood it. The only person who can tell us is justice Jafta himself. In terms of the context.”
Advocate Marcus went on to question the basis of his conclusions, which suggest the intentions behind Judge Hlophe’s utterances.
“On what basis do you express an opinion concerning who laid the complaint? It is not just a mere opinion, it’s something that is in the documents, where he is talking about his reluctance.”
“One of the last things that this tribunal will have to determine was whether a conversation between the judges about a pending case was a breach of professional ethics.”
The two witnesses are expected to take the stand on Tuesday.
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