Judge Thokozile Masipa has heard all the evidence and witnesses that the prosecution and defence care to present before her as well as the two sides’ arguments on the case. However, who is this lady who has sat patiently over the 41 days of the case? What makes her tick?
She was born on sixteenth day of October, 1947 in the Soweto township which was south of Johannesburg. She is the first in a family of ten children born to a humble family that lived in the then impoverished part of Soweto, Orlando East, where her mother used to brew traditional beer commonly known as ‘umqombothi’ in order to help put food on the table. Thokozile Matilda, Masipa would carry out sentry duties while the beer was being brewed to ensure that her mother was not arrested by the tough local police at the time. Their humble abode was a four roomed house meaning that young Thokozile would sometimes sleep in the dining room or under the kitchen table.
Her school life was fraught with all the ills and hurdles of life in the townships for any young girl. For reasons that have remained as much an enigma as the lady herself, she moved schools several times from Soweto, Alexandra and Swaziland, a neighboring country. She finally graduated from Immaculata high school in Alexandra in the year 1966. However, she could not immediately fulfill her ambition of going to University due to lack of funds. She had to work to earn a living, first as a clerk, messenger and then as a tea girl. She was finally able to go to university where managed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1974. Being the driven woman she is, Thokozile Masipa went to acquire a bachelor of laws sixteen years later since she had to work and study at the same time. Both degrees were obtained from the University of South Africa. It is while she was studying for her law degree that she also worked as a junior journalist at the World Newspaper. It was a tough time for her as she was also a mother and wife to tax consultant, Makhutla Wilson Masipa. However, she was not to be deterred. She was appointed the editor of the women’s section in the Post where she had moved. Here, she made her presence felt by writing about schools, education, quality of textbooks and the conditions of service for domestic workers.
Having dropped her middle name, Matilda and to keep her Zulu name of Thokozile, she was appointed to the South African bench in 1998 by former President Nelson Mandela where she also made history by becoming only the second woman to be appointed. While her appointment to the case involving the Oscar Pistorius trial has been called standard, many view it as a significant appointment which illustrates a paradigm shift in how the department of Justice views women judges. Whatever the reason for her appointment, it is this woman who will, on the 11th of September, decide if, in shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, Oscar mistook her for an intruder or, in a feat of seemingly characteristic rage, he fired four shots through the toilet door with the express intention of killing her.