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Pistorius trial judge has strong views

21 January 2014
Ernest Mabuza

THE judge assigned to the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius has spoken out strongly on violence against women and has made it clear that no one is above the law.

Last week Johannesburg High Court Judge Thokozile Matilda Masipa, 66, was assigned to the high-profile murder case, due to start on March 3. Pistorius is accused of murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his Pretoria home on Valentine's Day last year.

The trial is likely to put Masipa in the spotlight. However, with more than 15 years of experience on the bench, including in a number of high-profile trials, she is unlikely to be fazed by the attention.

In 1998 the former journalist, social worker and advocate became the country's second black woman judge after former Constitutional Court Judge Yvonne Mokgoro. Since then, many of the cases she has presided over have made headlines and they range from rape and murder trials to evictions and civil claims involving millions of rands.

Last year Masipa sentenced notorious house robber and rapist Shepherd Moyo to 252 years in prison. In 2001 she sentenced two rapists to life imprisonment, saying the unprecedented spate of violence, especially rape against women and children, was escalating at an alarming rate.

"Helpless, defenceless women feel unsafe, even in the sanctity of their own homes, and look to these courts to protect their interests and the courts can protect these interests by meting out harsh sentences," she said.

Masipa said that, although the modern-day approach to punishment should emphasise rehabilitation and prevention, especially when the accused was young, in that case she believed deterrence should play a more prominent role because of the seriousness and prevalence of the offence.

Judge Masipa also made the news when she sentenced a policeman who shot his former wife to life imprisonment in 2009.

In another notable judgment, in 2010 she dismissed an application by former Eskom chief executive Jacob Maroga, who was challenging the termination of his contract and seeking R85-million compensation.

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