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‘Drunk’, ‘racist’ rant should see Judge Motata face impeachment, rules Supreme Court of Appeal

‘Drunk’, ‘racist’ rant should see Judge Motata face impeachment, rules Supreme Court of Appeal
Judge Nkola Motata at the Johannesburg high court on 29 November 2010, where he was denied leave to appeal against his conviction for drunken driving. (Photo: Gallo Images/The Times/Marianne Schwankhart)

The Judicial Services Commission was wrong to only find him guilty of misconduct and not gross misconduct, the SCA ruled.

“Drunk” Judge Nkola Motata could become the first South African judge to be impeached.

The Supreme Court of Appeal on Thursday ruled that the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) was wrong when it found that he was only guilty of “misconduct” and not “gross misconduct”, for events 15 years ago when he drove drunk into a wall.

While Judge Motata was convicted criminally of the offence, the JSC, by majority rule, did not accept the recommendation of the Judicial Conduct Tribunal that he be impeached. Instead, it imposed a R1.5-million fine on him.

Judge Motata has since retired on full benefits.

But the SCA, by majority, has directed that the JSC now initiate impeachment proceedings against him.

The application for his impeachment was launched by Freedom Under Law.

The Johannesburg high court, which first heard the application, took sides with the JSC.

But Judge Visvanthan Ponnan, writing for the majority in the SCA, said the court, like the JSC, had not got it right.

Read the judgment here.

Judge Motato’s drunk driving incident took place in January 2007 when he attempted to execute a U-turn and reversed into a wall.

The owner of the property arrived on the scene, and took a video of Judge Motata’s drunken, racist tirade.

Judge Motata denied being drunk and claimed he had been “provoked”, but this was rejected at his criminal trial and at the hearing of the tribunal.

But when the issue came before the JSC for consideration, it had ignored entirely the impact Judge’s Motata’s racist comments had on the public’s confidence in the judiciary, Judge Ponnan, writing for the majority, said.

“Both [the JSC and the high court] had failed to consider the impact on the public of him remaining ‘Judge Motata’ and continuing to receive the benefits of his pension as a judge after he was found to have made racist statements and thereafter conducted a dishonest defence in his criminal trial and before the Tribunal.

“It was of course open to Judge Motata to offer, at any time, an apology for his conduct. But, he did not.

“Whether an apology would have been sufficient to restore public confidence need not detain us, because none was proffered by him.

“It appears that he failed even after finalisation of the criminal trial to appreciate that he had engaged in misconduct of a most serious kind. This reveals both his lack of insight and his lack of appreciation for his misconduct on the public confidence in the judiciary.

“Judge Motata’s conduct was egregious … his behaviour at the scene of the incident was characterised by racism, sexism and vulgarity.

“The public watched him conduct a dishonest defence during his trial and on appeal. They watched him dishonestly accuse Mr Baird [the owner of the property] of using the k-word, only to thereafter withdraw the accusation.

“They watched him lie under oath to the Tribunal about his level of intoxication, as the video of him slurring his words and stumbling went viral. His conduct is inimical to his office. For as long as he is entitled to be called Judge Motata, the judiciary continues to be stained in the eyes of the public,” Judge Ponnan said.

The court ordered that the JSC deal with the matter in terms of section 20(4) of the Judicial Services Commission Act “namely that the JSC must submit the finding that Judge Motala is guilty of gross misconduct to the Speaker of the National Assembly”.

The two dissenting judges agreed with the main findings of the court but said the issue should be remitted back to the JSC for reconsideration. DM

First published by GroundUp.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:


    At last a sign that the law is actually being applied to all as it should be.

    This is cause for cautious celebration.

    • rmrobinson says:

      Not at all. He has been on a pension for close on 2 decades. Any white person, doing what he did, would long ago have been in prison.

  • Nick Miller says:

    Quite right!

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Nothing has actually changed and until it does, I shall refrain from jubilation!
    Been found guilty of gross misconduct and actually being punished for it are miles apart. We’ve still got a way to go!

  • owen steyn says:

    what going to happen?…i well tell you NOTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • rmrobinson says:

    He is close to 20 years on a pension, having thought fit to inflict racist abuse on a person into whose wall he crashed, while intoxicated. But then, he is black and the victim is white. Imagine the reverse.

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    Too Little Too Late!!!

  • Gerrie Pretorius says:

    I surely hope motata has to pay back the money! He has been a ‘thief’ for 15 years – drawing a pension fit for a judge when he is in fact a racist cheat!

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    And in the US Justice Alito ( of the Supreme Court) took a private jet and a holiday care of a billionaire whose matter came before him. According to him people should take his word that he was unbiased and “as far as he knows the seat would have remained empty”. Yo!! And there’s no mechanism to do anything about either him or his brother Republican Justice Thomas who enjoyed regular free also undeclared trips over a long period with another billionaire litigants.
    Whose courts are captured?

    • rmrobinson says:

      You have a good point about the USA. The USA is and has always been on the extreme side of western civilisation. In the EU, this will not be tolerated. Nor should it be in South Africa. We must not let ourselves be informed by a nation that munches burgers and chips, is so fat that one winces when seeing one of them, produces people so unutterably stupid that, when one is inflicted with them in Paris, the waiters help one to get to a table so one need not hear that awful accent, etc etc/

    • Mario Cremonte says:

      They both are Sydney! Should I now be ecstatically happy?

  • Paddy Ross says:

    Don’t tell me that this is going to be “Mkhwebane – the Sequel” at taxpayers expense again!

  • Mike Schroeder says:

    The incident is 16 (!!!) years ago and it’s taken until now to just have the SCA rule on it and push it back to the JSC … a really sad and sorry state of (judicial) affairs!
    Justice deferred is justice denied!!
    And we all know who sits on the JSC …

  • Scott Gordon says:

    Hmm, the wheel does turn slowly , at least we can see it move .
    Light in a very dark tunnel , yet there is light .
    Gosh , where was I 16 years ago ? Hit the headlines .
    Guess I missed the racist rants .
    Being drunk is no excuse .
    So after all this time , why now ?
    Someone found a ‘cold case file’ while on lunch , no , it was the Public ” Freedom Under Law ” !
    “The court ordered that the JSC deal with the matter”
    Really , it took a court order ?
    Who is running the asylum ?
    One will need lots of $$$ to fight any case , especially if the taxpayer is funding the defendant .
    Who has oversight of Concourt ?
    Much is said about ‘self representation ‘ in any court of law , we are obliged to ‘seek counsel ‘ , at their hourly rate , seems like a closed shop and smacks of a ‘monopoly ‘ 🙂

  • Anna Botha says:

    Retired on full benefits, that is just so wrong.

  • Lisbeth Scalabrini says:

    15 years ago! don’t lose time on this one, it’s not worth the cost. Much better get moving and start to prosecute some of the state-capture criminals mentioned in the Zondo Commission report.

  • David Peddle says:

    Great stuff, whoopee woo, so he got to delay it so well, because of our amazing best in the world judicial system and constitution, that he goes home with his full pension which he would have lost if matters had gone to trial in a proper and orderly manner!

  • Andrew Blaine says:

    And what happened to Hlope?

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