Minister Michael Masutha: Launch of commencement of implementation of rationalisation of magisterial districts

28 Nov 2014

Programme Director,
Deputy Judges President of North and South Gauteng High Courts
Distinguished Members of the Judiciary
Councillors and other elected representatives present
Directors of Public Prosecutions present and members of the NPA present
Heads of Statutory Bodies
Senior Management and Government officials
Community of Diepsloot
Representatives of the media
Distinguished guests

I feel humbled and privileged to be part of this historic occasion to mark the beginning of a new chapter and era in the administration of justice broadly.

It is fitting that we have come here to Diepsloot to launch this important rationalisation of courts programme during the “16 Days of Activism of No Violence against Women and Children Campaign” and just a few days after Honourable President Zuma launched this campaign at Reiger Park, not far from here.  

In his address the President mentioned the tragic story of the murder of young girls from this area, namely Anelisa Mkhonto and cousins Zandile and Yonelisa Mali. Today we have come to echo the President’s strong message he sent out at Reigerpark that “abusers, murderers and rapists have no place in our communities”. The police will trace and track them wherever they hide so that the might of the law can take its course.

Today’s occasion is historic and unusual in many ways. Occasionally, ceremonies of this nature are used to mark the official opening of a court or a justice service centre as a way of bringing services to the local community concerned. Today we have neither come to launch a new court nor cut a ribbon of a justice service centre as we are accustomed of doing: We have chosen this Community Hall where people normally meet to discuss and resolve matters that affect their daily lives to unveil new magisterial districts that will be rolled-out country-wide. These new magisterial districts constitute a compass that directs people to the nearest court as far as it is practically possible in order to enhance access to justice for all.

The implementation of new magisterial districts which commences in Gauteng and North West provinces on 1 December 2014 marks the beginning of a new era and chapter in the administration of justice. It fundamentally changes the lives of millions of people across the length and breadth of the Republic, particularly those who live in areas that formed part of the defunct Homelands and Bantustans. These imaginary states which formed the bastion of separate development during apartheid were established to enforce the racial policies of the past which excluded Blacks from the mainstream of the country’s economy and the justice system, among others.

Today, in the twentieth anniversary of South Africa’s constitutional democracy, magisterial districts are still steeped in the legacy of the past and still reflect remnants of the divisions of the past characterised by race, tribalism and ethnicity.

The commencement of these historic changes is the culmination of the hard work of many actors in the justice system and beyond. Many have participated and contributed, and continue to do so, in the reconceptualisation of the magisterial districts with a view to establishing a judicial system suited for a democratic and developmental South Africa envisaged by our revolutionary Constitution. We have been able to reach the milestone with regard to the Gauteng and North West provinces through the inputs, views, suggestions and critique from a maze of stakeholders and role-players. 

Among these are the South African Police Service, Correctional Services, the Department of Social Development, the Sheriffs’ sector and the legal profession whose operations are intrinsically linked to courts areas of jurisdiction. The Judiciary has also made invaluable contribution into this process through the Regional Coordinating Committees established by the Department and the Provincial Efficiency Enhancement Committees established by the Chief Justice for which we are grateful.   

Distinguished guests,

The new rationalised, integrated and inclusive magisterial districts will yield the following multi-faceted benefits to the affected communities:

  • Every person or community will be able to access justice services provided by a Magistrate’s Court within their own municipal area and therefore in their vicinity. In respect of metropolitan areas and large municipalities more than one magisterial district or sub-districts of a district will be established in order to alleviate congestion of cases at one court or justice service centre.
  • Regional Courts will be eligible to use a district court, sub-district or Branch Court as seats of the Regional Court concerned so that people do not have to travel outside their municipal areas to access services of a Regional Court. This will ensure that Regional Courts, in particular courts which are dedicated to special cases such as Sexual Offences Courts, are within reach of local communities. The notable drop in sexual offences cases and gender based violence which emerged when my colleague in South African Police Service released the crime statistics recently, we believe is, partly as a result of measures we have put in place in this area, including the re-establishment of Sexual Offences Courts.
  • In respect of High Courts there will be a seat for a Division of the High Court in each of the nine provinces so as to ensure that communities are able to access services of a High Court in the province of their residence. The construction of the Limpopo and Mpumalanga seats of the High Court which are currently underway is part of this reform process. I am pleased to announce that the Limpopo Division of the High Court will start to function as a separate Division from the North Gauteng High Court just after the sitting of the Judicial Service Commission of April 2015. I am hopeful that by that time the President would have determined the number of judges of the said Division. The Mpumalanga Division of the High Court will be officially launched a year after the Limpopo Division.
  • As in the case of metropolitan areas and large municipalities, local seats of a Division of the High Court will be established with a view to decentralising services of a High Court to communities that live far away from the main seat of a Division in a province.
  • District Courts throughout the country will be adequately equipped to serve as circuit courts of the High Court in a province to ensure that cases are tried as close as possible to the local communities.

The above measures show how the new changes to magisterial districts will ease the triple effects of distance, time and costs which continue to inhibit access to justice for many people in this country. It is in this context that it has become increasingly important that we align our capital project through which we construct courts and other justice service centres to the rationalisation project. This is necessary as the rationalisation process provides a scientific basis for determining areas in acute need of court and justice service centres.

Programme Director,

Allow me, before we get to the next session of our programme during which the delegation that has accompanied me will listen to concerns that you will like to raise, to briefly outline, as an anecdote, how the new magisterial districts will befit the community of Diepsloot and how the same scenario plays itself in many parts of our country.  

People of Diepsloot, although the area is part of the City of Johannesburg metro, commute to Pretoria in the City of Tshwane metro for purposes of accessing justice services including maintenance, domestic violence, deceased estates and small claims court. A single journey to the court in Pretoria which is undertaken by taxi which is the only mode of public transport stretches for about 50km. Conversely a single journey to the Randburg court under which this area will now resort is less than half of the distance to Pretoria. It therefore cost more to travel to Pretoria than to the court nearby which is within the municipal area of this community.

Similarly the Police in respect of transporting detainees, probation officers under the Department of Social Development and district surgeons under the Department of Health who are required to come and testify in various cases for example, must travel to the furthest court in Pretoria outside the City of Johannesburg metro. This is not only costly to the State but it also does not lend itself to economical use of time and resources.

The same scenario plays itself out in several other parts of the Republic particularly those that still carry the baggage of the defunct Homeland system. In the Marikana human settlement for example, the community and the state functionaries travel to the court in the Odi District which is about 150km away while the Rustenburg court is less than 30 km from the informal human settlement.

The rationalisation of magisterial districts will therefore alleviate the burden of distance, time and costs on both citizens and the State.

The date of 1 December 2014 is also significant as it heralds the commencement of yet another far reaching innovation aimed at widening access to justice for ordinary people, namely, the court-annexed mediation. This new innovation is linked to the rationalisation of magisterial districts in the sense that it is implemented in accordance to the roll-out schedule of the rationalisation programme. As a result, court-annexed mediation will commence in the magisterial districts and sub-districts of the Magistrates Courts in the following areas: Johannesburg, Soweto, Krugersdorp, Kagiso, Randburg, Pretoria North, Soshanguve, Palmridge and Sebokeng.

The department will soon announce a date for the official launch of this court-annexed mediation programme at which the processes and the various steps of mediation will be explained. It will also be shown how mediation will benefit ordinary South Africans in resolving civil disputes in a less adversarial manner, speedily and cheaply. Let take the opportunity this opportunity to recognise members of the Mediation Advisory Committee which is chaired by Acting Judge Sardiwalla of the Land Claims Court as well as the first intake of the mediation clerks who just completed their training course on court mediation who are in our midst.

Honoured guests,

Allow me at this point to unveil the new magisterial districts of the Johannesburg North Magisterial District under which Diepsloot now resorts, as a symbol for the official launch of the new 17 magisterial districts for the Gauteng province and 27 magisterial districts for the North West provinces which come into operation on Monday, 1 December 2014.

I thank you.

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