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Top judicial appointments bode well for transformation

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander/ African News Agency (ANA)

By Wallace Mgoqi

If truth be told, gender equality, in the sense of equal and equitable treatment between males and females is dragging at a snail, space in the whole of Africa. If we look at the heads of courts throughout the continent, they are dominated by male figures, not because they have a monopoly of wisdom and understanding of life, in general, or the law, in particular, but simply because of the legacy of patriarchy and misogyny.

The appointment of Judge Mandisa Maya as Deputy Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court gives us an opportunity to look more closely at this issue of the pace of transformation in the judiciary, both in our country as well as in Africa as a whole. It is certainly a step forward for the country to have someone like Justice Maya on the cusp of becoming the first woman Chief Justice of the country, but it still begs the question: “are we moving fast enough in transforming the judiciary? Sadly, the answer is a resounding: No.”

The way things are unfolding, it would seem that in a hurdles – race, it suffices for men to jump 60 hurdles, whilst women are expected to jump the rest of all hundred hurdles, which is clearly unfair and strenuous on the part of women, who must put themselves through the selection process. Every effort must be made to ensure that the playing field is even and level – justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done.

The notion still prevails that men are the custodians of wisdom, yet empirical evidence points in the opposite direction.There is by now, no gainsaying that, women have both high IQ,s as well as high EQ, s, a strong intellect as well as a balanced emotional quotient – these are both critical for decision-making. Where men have to settle a dispute between two contending disputants – say two sisters, for example, arguing over an orange their mother left for both of them to share, men are likely to rule that they cut it in half, and take 50% -50% each of the orange.Whereas a woman will have the sense that the sisters need to explore their respective interests in the orange.

Only to discover that once they have done so, one has an interest in the flesh of the orange, the other wants just the peel or skin to use for medicinal purposes, so that each gets 100 % of what they want or need, as opposed to settling for a compromise of cutting it in half. Such is the mind of women, they are wired in such a way that they explore deeper underlying issues before they come to a decision on any matter.In the context of our forty-eight-year marriage, I have had to eat a humble pie, when I would rush to a conclusion, and my wife would gently urge me to look at other variables and it dawned on me that I was rather hasty to reach a conclusion. The Old Book says: “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Most men are wired in such a way as to go for the jugular in any situation. Perhaps it is the reason that the world today is such a mess, it is led by men whose testosterone drives them to make hasty decisions without properly applying their minds to the consequences of their decisions or actions.

The world is governed by men overwhelmingly.

Without sounding patronizing or condescending when I use the words of that human rights icon and champion of human rights, Eleanor Roosevelt, in encouraging our women, who said: “Surely, in the light of history, it is more intelligent to hope rather than to fear, to try rather than not try. For one thing, we know beyond all doubt: “Nothing has ever been achieved by the person who says, “It cannot be done … the world of the future is in our making. Tomorrow is now!”

Justice Maya has shown us a very bold spirit, precisely because she has come to understand that power is not yielded easily by those wielding it but must be taken by those who are oppressed by it – by force if need be.

This icon, Eleanor Roosevelt, also made the important point: “Remember always that you have not only the right to be an individual; you have an obligation to be one. You cannot make any useful contribution in life unless you do this.”

Gender equality will also make its strides when women band together and use their collective power to advance the cause of women’s liberation such that even the highest echelons of the judiciary in Africa will be filled with women heading the courts in proportion to their numbers in society.

Maybe it has never been done in history and it is not going to be done ever, men on their own will not do it for them. In the height of black consciousness as activists we heeded the call: “Black men, you are on your own “resonated with us and knew that we had to fight our own struggle and not rely on our white liberal friends.

In fact, we told them that if they were so convinced of the need for our liberation, they should go to their white communities and tell them so. So we men whose eyes have been opened, have a duty to influence other men to adopt appropriate attitudes towards women and their rights to rise in life, limited only by their human endowments. It is in the self-enlightened interest that this must happen, in our country and in Africa and the world.Another important factor to be borne in mind, in the interests of advancing gender equality and gender equity institutionally is (whether those institutions are Chapter 9 institutions or not ) that they are adequately and effectively resourced.

During my tenure, both at the Gender Commission and the Land Claims Court over 7 years and 6 years respectively, I experienced first-hand how underfunded these institutions can be. It undermined their mandate and what they were meant to do and achieve.A combination of the forces that coalesce to drive gender equality and gender equity, will fast-track the gender agenda such that gender discrimination and gender oppression will be something of the past. The time is now.

Justice Maya is to be congratulated for pushing the boundaries, for pushing the envelope, the way she did, otherwise we would have been no closer to the goal of gender equality and equity in South Africa – far less so in Africa, where only a handful of the courts are headed by women.Those who get there through their own strength are not likely to be made puppets, as they know and their peers and their adversaries also know that they are not there through favours from anybody, they are there through their own pedigree, and they will always “ speak truth to power.”

They will pull no punches but will make their way to the top. That is the great lesson we must take from Justice Mandisa Maya and others of her ilk. We can only hope that the example of Justice Maya will inspire many of those coming behind her, that it is possible to rise through your own bootstraps, with the help of well-intentioned supporters and mentors, to the top of the echelon- it can be done – she has demonstrated it decisively.

Mgoqi is the chairman of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.