Having had the privilege of practising at the Bar in Durban at the same time as Lewis Skweyiya I was very sad to learn of his untimely death earlier this week. He fully deserved his appointment to the benches of all the courts he served on, including the highest court. After resuming practice as an attorney in 1981 I was concerned mainly with labour law and I briefed him in a matter in Richards Bay shortly thereafter. My client’s HR manager had been accused by 17 female employees of sexually harassing them, and criminal charges had been preferred against the manager. Senior management sincerely believed he was innocent and instructed me to arrange for his defence at the expense of the company. Lewis was briefed and it transpired during his thorough and careful cross-examination of the 17 complainants that they had conspired to get rid of the HR manager. He was ‘not from that area’ and they resented the discipline he was enforcing. They falsely thought they could have him removed by laying all the criminal charges against him. Needless to say the HR manager was acquitted on all 17 charges and to the best of my recollection the company instituted disciplinary action against the female employees.
In a tribute to the late Justice Skweyiya, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said: “We received news of the passing of former Justice Skweyiya with deep sadness. He served the nation with great distinction as an anti-apartheid lawyer, human rights activist, Senior Counsel, Judge of the High Court as well as a Justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.”
A statement from the SA Judiciary read: “The late Justice Skweyiya will be missed for his wisdom, humility and passion for human rights, judicial independence, and a functional constitutional democracy. He was indeed a pleasant person to work with, very considerate and a peaceable man. His death is a great loss to South Africa and we will miss him.”