Growing up in poverty and suppression in apartheid South Africa, Hendrick Mmolli Thekiso Musi was always bright and ambitious but couldn’t imagine he’d ever get the opportunity to realise his full potential.
Admitted as an attorney in the Supreme Court of South Africa in Pretoria in 1980, he became the first practising lawyer to emerge from his hometown of Mabopane, and the first-ever attorney from his rural home countryside.
Another ground-breaking appointment followed, as the first-ever black judge on the bench of the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein, in 1999; and a decade later, in 2008, he became its first black judge president – a harbinger of the transformation that would forever change the previously white-male-dominated court. More black and female judges were appointed in the years that followed, and by the time Judge Musi retired in 2014, the number of black judges had risen to nine out of a complement of fourteen.
From his high-school days to his elevation to the bench, Thekiso Musi always played leadership roles: perfect at high school; primarius and deputy president of the Student Representative Council at university; deputy president and acting president of a national lawyers’ organisation; and finally, judge president.
In a career spanning 36 years in the practice of law, Judge Musi served on various bodies, including the Black Lawyers’ Association, the Judicial Conduct Committee (judging the judges)and the Arms Procurement Commission. He has adjudicated disputes in some of the country’s pre-eminent courts, including the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Labour Appeal Court.
The story of Thekiso Musi’s life is testimony of the truth that with vision, focus, determination, hard work and perseverance, anyone can achieve their goals.