‘I never enforced apartheid through the barrel of a gun’: Gauteng judge candidate
A visibly nervous advocate Daniel de Villiers SC on Tuesday took his seat to be interviewed for a second time this year for the position of a judge in the Gauteng division of the high court.
His earlier interview, in April, was unsuccessful.
As in his previous interview, commissioner Griffiths Madonsela SC asked De Villiers pressing questions about the role he played in the military during the apartheid years.
In the first interview, Madonsela had asked De Villiers, a former deacon in the Dutch Reformed Church, about the views of the church on apartheid at the time he served in it.
De Villiers said though the church was strong in its views at the time, he was part a group of people who did not support apartheid and instead called for unity.
He said while he was not completely sold on the ideas held by the leadership of the church, he “felt at home” in the church, adding it was an establishment rich in tradition.
On Tuesday, urging him to “come clean”, Madonsela asked: “Did you serve in the army during the height of apartheid, when the military was harassing black people in the townships?”
With his cheeks red and a smile possibly brought on by his nervousness, De Villiers took the panellists into his confidence.
“In my CV I did reflect that I served in the military, but let me take the commissioners to a dark time. I never served in the township because I didn’t want to. When you say soldiers harassed people in the township, I didn’t. That is because I made a plan. The plan was to do an advanced law course and I became a lawyer and I sat at the commando offices,” said De Villiers.
He said he had little to no legal work to do, saying he would move papers from one side of his desk to the other.
There’s nothing in that time that I did that could embarrass the judiciary.Daniel de Villiers SC
“That was how I dealt with the dilemma because I felt I couldn’t serve in the townships. I thought it was wrong what was happening then,” said De Villiers.
He said he had no choice but to join the military, describing it as a “right of passage and a duty one had to do”.
De Villiers was adamant that despite his years of military service under the apartheid regime, his hands remained clean.
“There’s nothing in that time that I did that could embarrass the judiciary,” he said.
“If there is a fear in this room that I enforced apartheid through the barrel of a gun in the townships, I never did,” he said, adding he felt used by the system at the time.
The military had the option of calling him back to serve a further two years but did not.
Prof Engela Schlemmer asked for clarity.
“I would like you to tell the commissioners because every time a white male sits here, this question is asked. What happened to white men when they refused to do military service?” she asked.
“You went to jail,” replied De Villiers. “The army would arrest you and put you in the detention barracks and then you would be prosecuted. In truth, in 1979 in Upington, I knew of no-one who would do that [enforce apartheid laws] and I only met those people later in my life.”
De Villiers is one of 17 candidates being interviewed for 10 vacant positions in the Gauteng high court division.
He holds years of experience, having practised as a lawyer since 1994.
Judge president of the Gauteng division of the high court Dustan Mlombo hailed De Villiers’ commitment to the court as he has been an acting judge for several weeks, saying De Villiers availed himself even when many of his peers failed to take on Mlombo’s call to come and act.