“Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa is a quiet, stern 66-year-old black woman who has steadfastly avoided the limelight even as she rose from a poor township to the nation’s High Court. A former newspaper reporter, she was once arrested during a protest and ordered by her white jailers to clean her cell’s filthy toilet. She began studying law at the height of apartheid and became a lawyer only in her 40s. Since the trial began in March, Judge Masipa has sat at the intersection of two powerful problems in South Africa: violence against women and racial tensions. She has listened to Mr. Pistorius’s lawyers knit together a defense that rests in part on white South Africans’ deep-rooted fear of black men invading their homes. She has sometimes chided the white men in her courtroom, who address her with the honorific “My Lady” — still an extraordinary scene a generation after the end of apartheid.
Judge Masipa is known for meting out stiff sentences in previous cases of violence against women, However she has revealed little of her thinking in this trial, mostly listening quietly with her hands folded. An intensely private person, Judge Masipa has given few interviews over the years. But in 2003, when she was being considered for a seat on the Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest court, she argued that her race, gender and disadvantaged upbringing would be assets.
As a black female judge, she remains a rarity. In a country where blacks make up 80 percent of the population, they account for 44 percent of superior court judges. Women total 33 percent; black women, 15 percent.. At the University of Natal in the early 1970s, where she majored in social work, she was known for her discipline and maturity. She also developed a pattern of trying new things, like karate, After a brief career as a social worker, Judge Masipa became a reporter at The Post, where she eventually edited a weekly women’s section, former colleagues said. It was a period of profound change during which blacks increasingly challenged the apartheid system, leading to a series of protests in Soweto in 1976. while her peers attended social gatherings, she began studying law, earning a degree from the University of South Africa in 1990, four years before the end of apartheid. She became an advocate a year later, and, in 1998, became the second black woman to be appointed to the High Court. Judge Masipa has built a strong track record, handling complex cases and adroitly navigating around a legal technicality in one ruling to deliver a sentence of 252 years to a serial rapist.”
Copied in its entirety from Zapiro’s website http://www.zapiro.com/Judge-Thokozile-Masipa-140413st/ (with written permission) as part of my Women’s Month series on notable South African Women.