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Malalane attorney claims she wasn’t ‘on record’ for client in court

An urgent application for contempt of court was brought forward against attorney Zietta Janse van Rensburg. This followed her going on record for her clients while under suspension.

Malalane attorney Zietta Janse van Rensburg told Acting High Court Judge Henk Roelofse that she was not appearing in her capacity as a legal representative during recent court proceedings before Judge Brian Mashile.

The Legal Practice Council (LPC) brought an urgent application for contempt of the High Court against Janse van Rensburg.

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This followed her going on record for her clients, Johan Möller and Sonell Joubert, in the controversial ‘Onderberg elephant case’ on May 21, 2024.

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She did so while under suspension. Mashile, who confirmed Janse van Rensburg’s suspension by not granting her leave to appeal it on a previous occasion, was also the presiding officer in the May 21 proceedings.

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On that day, Janse van Rensburg was robed and presented herself as the representative of the respondents. Mashile was also the judge to who this week’s urgent application, was originally assigned. Because he has such direct knowledge of her being suspended and appearing in court as an attorney nonetheless, Mashile recused himself from Tuesday’s urgent contempt of court application.

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It was rescheduled and heard by Roelofse on Wednesday morning. Roelofse started proceedings by establishing common cause by referencing all past appearances since February 22, 2024, when the court first granted an order of suspension up until Wednesday’s appearance. Janse van Rensburg acknowledged the findings, but told the court she was not the attorney on record for the elephant case, and that it was a Mr Vilane. Roelofse allowed both parties to argue on whether Janse van Rensburg had acted intentionally and with mala fide (in bad faith).

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Janse van Rensburg told the court she did not act with mala fide when she appeared on May 21, and that Section 38 of the Constitution allowed her to appear in court. This section states that anyone listed therein has the right to approach a competent court. This includes anyone acting in their own interest; acting on behalf of another person who cannot act in their own name; acting as a member of, or in the interest of, a group or class of persons; acting in the public interest; and an association acting in the interest of its members.

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The LPC’s Thembeka Ratshibvumo argued that Janse van Rensburg knew she was suspended, but still presented herself as the attorney on record, lying to the court by saying that she had already filed Supreme Court of Appeal proceedings that would allow her to act as an attorney.

Despite Janse van Rensburg’s denial, correspondence between her and the attorney for Shofeeds – the applicants in the elephant case – was presented, showing that she was representing her clients as their lawyer.

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Janse van Rensburg said a mistake on the part of her secretary was to blame for this. Judgment was reserved until Friday and will be handed down in written format to both parties.

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