Judge Jansen: Loving mum or racist?
‘I’m standing by her no matter how people condemn me. She is my mother and I know what is in her heart,” says Lulu Qulu (28), the daughter of Judge Mabel Jansen’s domestic worker, Sibongile, who she legally adopted and raised in her home. The two black women have closed ranks around their “mother”, Judge Jansen, after she was accused of racism, saying she is “not a racist”. “On Mother’s Day my message was first on her Facebook page. I wrote to her that ‘she is the best mother in the whole world’.” “When the race bombshell about her remarks on Facebook dropped, barely an hour later, I was in a state. Ever since I’ve been upset and deeply hurt by the rude words snarled at her,” said Qulu.
Her cousin Nana Sithole (45), who together with her mother Lena and son Thabang, lived with Jansen for more than six years, said May, as she fondly calls Judge Jansen, is also like a mother to her.
“I know her heart. She may have put something wrongly but that doesn’t make her a bad person. Everyone makes mistakes but only God can judge us,” said Sithole.
The past week has been hell for Jansen’s loved ones following the storm around the once-respected judge whose integrity was everything to her – and hours after she heard her husband had died behind the wheel of his car in Britain.
He had been working for three months at a time as an orthodontist in England over a period of time. But Jansen hasn’t been able to arrange his funeral.
Since the journalist and activist Gillian Schutte decided to make personal messages that Jansen sent to her a year ago public, the judge has been getting death threats. She was too scared to leave her house, said Qulu.
The judge deleted her Facebook page to protect her family and friends. She only answers her phone if she knows the calling number. A friend gave her a step-by-step guide on how to survive an attack on social media. It reads: “Don’t get into a panic, don’t try to explain yourself, don’t apologise and don’t allow yourself to be isolated.”
Qulu added: “I’ve known her for 28 years. My room is in between her two daughters’ rooms, she put me through school and university and I enjoyed the same pocket money, extramural activities and overseas vacations as them [her children]. My biological mother also came along.
“When I speak to her about her work, she tells me how traumatic the child rape cases are for her. It overwhelms her because she had very little exposure to criminal cases in her career,” she explained.
“The day she wrote those messages to Schutte she was busy working on a judgment in the umpteenth rape criminal appeal, one in which a five-year-old girl was raped. She was emotional and got swept up in the debate on rape that was taking place on Schutte’s page.”
According to Qulu, Jansen became friends with Schutte on Facebook because Schutte was a friend of one of the judge’s friends. The two women have never met.
“Yes, she exaggerated and generalised about black men, but the reality is it is still a huge problem in townships. I know, I have black friends who have been raped,” Qulu said.
Sithole said she was grateful to the judge for assisted her when her mother Lena was sick by settling the hospital bills. When she passed away, the judge assisted with her funeral.
The Judicial Service Commission has sent Jansen a string of complaints for which she will be on trial before a judicial tribunal. Until then she has been placed on special leave.
She did not want to breathe a word about her utterances in the past week because the case is sub judice.
Writer and film maker Gillian Schutte approached various lawyers for help when nothing came of the complaint she lodged with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) regarding Judge Mabel Jansen’s racist comments to her and on Facebook. And she regularly asked her legal representative, who lodged the complaint with the JSC on her behalf, to find out from the commission why her complaint was not being investigated. It was only after the race bombshell about Jansen dropped on social media last week that Schutte heard from her legal representative that the JSC was still awaiting a sworn statement before they could formally investigate her complaint. “Unfortunately, my legal representative didn’t do her work properly,” Schutte admitted. “My motives are now being questioned because a perception has been created that I didn’t do anything about the matter for a year.”
“I’ve also been put in the dock because I supposedly divulged a private conversation between me and Jansen. The criticism against me is based on the wrong facts. The reality is the so-called private conversation between me and Jansen [that she later published on Facebook] didn’t contain any information she hadn’t already said publicly on Facebook.
“In the private conversation with me she only gave a summary of her racist assertion that was already on Facebook, that rape is part of black men’s culture,” Schutte said.
She said she was exasperated by Jansen’s statements on Facebook last year. She immediately unfriended Jansen and informed legal persons who were in a position to take the matter further. “I was utterly surprised that they simply ignored my complaints.” Sello Chiloane, spokesperson for the JSC, said when they were alerted to the comments there were no extracts attached and Schutte was advised on the procedural steps on how she should lodge the complaint. He said the process included making an affirmed statement or sworn affidavit detailing the matter or a complaint. Then the JSC Conduct Committee would assess and investigate the matter and determine if the complaint warranted an impeachment of the judge.
“We get that a lot about judges and we acknowledge complainants’ emails, letters or other form of communication. Then we explain the process and procedure of lodging a formal complaint against a person,” he explained.
Chiloane cited an example of a complaint against Judge John Hlophe where there was a technical issue with the complaint not having been made formally, as required by the JSC act.
In September last year, Schutte said she once again raised the matter on her Facebook page and a journalist who saw it sent word that she was interested in doing a story about it. Nothing came of it. It was only at the beginning of this month that people started taking an interest.
She posted Jansen’s conversation on her Facebook page in reaction to the storm that was unleashed when the transgender activist Wandile Dlamini and #RhodesMust Fall activist Tokozo Qwabe refused to give the waitress Ashleigh Schultz a tip.
She wanted to know why such a huge fuss was being made about this incident while no one said or did anything when a judge said rape was part of black men’s culture.
After a writer saw her post and shared it on social media, it became a storm in its own right, she said. “I’m just surprised at Jansen’s reaction to this. She tried to make herself the victim and that I was the one who was transgressing by making a private conversation public. The truth is that she herself bared her racist feelings on a public forum,” she said.
Lulu Qulu (28) is Judge Mabel Jansen’s adopted daughter