The South African judge who presided over the Oscar Pistorius trial will be in Chapel Hill on Monday to share her experiences of being a black lawyer in a country that once was ruled by apartheid.
Thokozile Masipa, a judge at the Johannesburg Division for the Gauteng High Court in South Africa, will deliver the 2015 William P. Murphy Distinguished Lecture at UNC-Chapel Hill’s law school rotunda.
The talk is set to begin at noon.
Masipa, 67, the second black woman appointed to the bench in the High Court of South Africa, was heavily watched by the world last year during the Pistorius trial.
After the seven-month murder trial, she found the double-amputee athlete guilty of culpable homicide for shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, multiple times through a closed toilet door in his home on Valentine’s Day. Masipa ruled that Pistorius did not intend to kill Steenkamp and acquitted him of murder. But she found he acted negligently when he fired four times through the door from close range with his 9 mm pistol.
Pistorius, sentenced to five years in prison, testified that he mistook Steenkamp for a dangerous nighttime intruder.
With that case on appeal, Masipa will be limited in what she can say about that experience.
A grandmother, former social worker and crime reporter who chronicled the indignities of life under apartheid, Masipa knows what it is like to be imprisoned. She went to jail in the mid-1970s, after demonstrating in downtown Johannesburg. The apartheid regime tried to suppress a newspaper where her work appeared. She and other female journalists who marched that day hoped to expose the cruelty of the white-minority rule and its impact on women.
She began her legal studies when Nelson Mandela was still in prison, and she was a student of Ken Broun, a former Chapel Hill mayor and UNC law school dean who helped conduct trial advocacy programs before and after apartheid. Through that program, she has developed multiple ties to North Carolina lawyers.
“Judge Masipa was an excellent student who was selected to be a teacher in the program,” Broun said. “Coming from the most difficult of circumstances, she has become an outstanding lawyer and judge. South Africa is fortunate to have her as one of its judges and leaders.”