Long walk to high court for judge

Themba Molefe

Themba Molefe

Ratha "Jimmy Greaves" Mokgoatlheng is the only known soccer star to have played wearing spectacles.

He is the high court judge who yesterday sentenced the 12 accused in the Jeppestown massacre trial.

On Wednesday, on the eve of the sentencing, Louis Tshakoane, a former Kaizer Chiefs spin doctor, reminisced about Mokgoatlheng, the young man of the 1960s who was inspired by lawyers Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.

"Ratha took time off from soccer and told us at Chiefs that he was going to the University of Fort Hare to study law," Tshakoane said.

He said when Mokgoatlheng returned it was only natural that he join Chiefs' legal team and become a club director.

The Jeppestown massacre trial is a long way from his soccer heyday and Mokgoatlheng, with 35 years in law, admits that he is still "wet behind the ears".

He was appointed to the bench in mid-2007 but the massacre trial has been a litmus test for him.

The defence wanted him to recuse himself after claiming that he was biased when he had joked about an accused who finally was pronounced well enough to stand trial. He was also accused of helping witnesses, intervening in cross-examination, misinterpreting submissions by defence counsel and breaking court procedure.

Answering accusations that his conduct had made the accused fearful, Mokgoatlheng reminded the court of the apartheid-era judicial system.

"In this court it's different from those courts pre-1990 . those judges were fearsome. Not this judge."

He served as an acting judge for three years and the Pretoria Bar has described him as a "careful and very able judge".

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