Mabel Jansen.  Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Mabel Jansen. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Judge Mabel Jansen has apologised for her social media statements on rape and black culture but has insisted she is not a racist and disputed the allegation that she is not fit to be a judge. The Judicial Conduct Committee, which deals with complaints against judges, is scheduled to hear submissions on a gross misconduct complaint against her on Thursday.

Jansen, a judge in the High Court in Pretoria, has been on special leave since a complaint was made about her remarks, which were widely condemned.

In a 2015 Facebook discussion on the public page of film maker Gillian Schutte, Jansen made a series of comments, including that 99% of the criminal cases she heard were of "black fathers/uncles/brothers raping children as young as five".

She said: "Want to read my files: rape, rape, rape, rape, rape, rape of minors by black family members. It is never-ending." In private direct messages — later publicly released by Schutte — Jansen said that in black culture, "a women is there to pleasure" men, that women tell their children it is their father’s birthright to be the first, and that gang rapes of baby, mother and daughter were a "pleasurable pass time".

The comments were met with a public outcry and a gross misconduct complaint was laid against her, saying that no black man accused of rape could have the comfort that Jansen would treat his case impartially.

In an affidavit responding to the complaint by Advocates For Transformation’s Johannesburg chairman, Vuyani Ngalwana SC, Jansen began by apologising. "I am profoundly sorry for the manner in which my words were conveyed and for the hurt and rightful offence it caused not only to every right-thinking person in our country but also to so many whom I hold dear."

Her apology was immediately followed by an emphatic statement that she was "not and have never been a racist". Nor would the views she expressed affect her ability to be a judge, she said. Her comments were taken "out of context" and were not meant to be generalisations. They were "generated by the specific cases I had been dealing with" and "based on my encounters with criminal cases pertaining to rape and murder, in certain communities".

The statements were ill-advised but not indicative of racism, she said. "My only motive was to assist abused women and children."

On the direct messages, Jansen said these comments were made in "the heat of the moment". They were "never intended to public and with hindsight should never have been made".

She said that, in the busy Gauteng division of the High Court, she found criminal appeals "the most emotionally draining". As they continued to "pour in", they made judges distressed, particularly when they pertained to rape. "Upon reading and hearing case after case … a judge cannot help but feel that the incidence, frequency and sense of entitlement and insensitivity with which rape and murder are perpetrated, in an unprecedented scale and should be urgently addressed." It was these cases that were the genesis of her "emotive, distressed statements", she said.

She said that, in her experience, the patterns on rape cases appeared very similar and "it appears so often that it presents as a culture (in the sense that the word is used for rape culture)". Jansen said racism was "a far and wide-ranging term" and "encompassed many concepts" — making an accusation of racism "impossible to counter".

"There is no "correct" viewpoint in the "racist mud-slinging game". She feared that "despite my sincere and honest denial of the accusations … I will be labelled as a racist by those not prepared to hear my explanation and intent on my downfall".

The Judicial Conduct Committee is the first stop when complaints are made about judges. The hearing on Thursday will be to decide whether the complaint prima facie would warrant a investigation into possible impeachment.

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