Judge Mahube Molemela being interviewed at the JSC interviews. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Judge Mahube Molemela being interviewed at the JSC interviews. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

Free State Judge President Mahube Molemela has described her shock at finding some "cold and unfriendly" colleagues at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) when she acted as a judge in that court last year.

Molemela is one of nine candidates being interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for three positions at the SCA.

Some judges who have had acting stints at the SCA described an unwelcoming environment there. When asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng how she found her time at the SCA last year‚ Molemela said her experience was a mixed bag.

"There were colleagues who were going out of their way to make us feel welcome. Unfortunately, there were colleagues who were cold and unfriendly." Molemela recounted an incident during the recess when she went to the chambers of a permanent judge she knew and introduced herself. Molemela said the judge concerned was cordial.

"At the beginning of the term‚ I was walking around the passages and saw him approaching. I greeted him and he didn’t greet‚" Molemela said. Mogoeng suggested that maybe he did not hear her. "I thought so [Chief Justice] and he just walked past me."

Molemela said to herself she would make sure that next time she met him‚ she would be loud enough. "Next time I greeted him and he did not respond. I said to him maybe you do not remember me. He said ‘Yes, I know you,’ and walked on."

Saying the incident "really bothered" her‚ Molemela said she had gone to another colleague who had recently been appointed in the same court and explained what had happened to her. "She said ‘Don’t worry. He does that to me as well’‚" Molemela said.

"I come from a very collegial court. I have acted at the Constitutional Court. It was a very‚ very collegial environment. I have acted at the Labour Appeal Court. You actually look forward to going to the tea room. For me it was really a shock to find an environment where a colleague can hardly afford to say hello when you say hello."

However‚ Molemela pointed out that those judges were in the minority as most judges were very welcoming. She said although she managed to participate fully in court and even in conferences‚ there was another incident she had to mention.

"It so happened that I posed a question to counsel and while I was waiting for counsel to answer me‚ the answer came from the presiding judge. To me it suggested that I had asked a stupid question‚" Molemela said.

When asked what could be done to improve the court’s environment‚ Molemela said perhaps fostering collegiality by encouraging colleagues to interact informally could help. She said judges in the Free State High Court had agreed to meet in the tea room for lunch every Wednesday.

"You bring your own lunchbox‚ and we just sit together and chat. Not everybody attends as others need to attend to something. The vast majority of the colleagues are attending. You look forward to a session like that‚" Molemela said.

Mogoeng expressed concern about Molemela’s experiences. "Maybe we should find a way to know them."