When the Judicial Institute for Africa (Jifa) schedules training for African judges, one of the most important preparatory issues is who to invite as faculty. Then follows an anxious time of discussion to ensure that the invited jurist will be available and willing to assist. Among those who regularly offers enthusiastic help and expertise is Justice Oagile ‘Key’ Dingake, originally from Botswana’s high court but now enjoying an international judicial career. Justice Dingake's remarkable writing, teaching and judicial life thus far – he is in his mid-50s - has been the centre of a new media profile that we are delighted to share with you.
Originally I met Judge Oagile Key Dingake via his decisions. Trawling through the judgments he had delivered during his time on the bench of Botswana, I began to form an idea of who the person behind these decisions would be.
A wide range of subjects was covered in these judgments but they had many things in common. Like respect for the dignity of the litigants, whatever the issue; clarity of writing; familiarity with the law from other jurisdictions on the issue he was considering (in fact I wondered if he had a dedicated research assistant); concern for the rights of those involved; and intolerance of injustice.
Then I discovered that he was something of a legal scholar in addition to his role as a judge. With an LLM from the University of London and a PhD from the University of Cape Town, his scholarly writing and teaching might well have led you to think he was a fulltime legal academic. In fact, he has a number of part-time professorial posts that link him to universities and other legal institutions round the globe, so you would not have been completely wrong.
Then I met him in person, as a member of Jifa faculty, teaching a course at the University of Cape Town for fellow judges from many parts of Africa.
Although he has often been in the news, particularly when he has delivered landmark judgments, he has now become the subject of a lengthy feature article in the media, sparked by the three most recent of his many books, reviewed by eminent judges and law professors. Writing for a newspaper in Zimbabwe last week, journalist and PhD student Moses Magadza, said he was so inspired by the reviews of these three books, that he felt ‘provoked’ to pay tribute to Dingake, someone he has known for over 10 years.
Magadza writes that, internationally, many people see in Judge Dingake ‘a judicial icon, a judge with steely determination to make an impact in the world by using law as an instrument of improving people’s welfare.’ His decisions are cited with approval in many countries, while United Nations’ agencies have collated his judgments and use them as teaching materials.
Among the issues about which he feels and has written passionately is accessibility for HIV treatment, treatment for TB, the rights of workers, and the rights of women. In one of his most famous decisions he wrote, ‘It seems to me that the time has now arisen for the justices of this court [Botswana] to assume the role of judicial midwife and assist in the birth of the new world struggling to be born. Discrimination against women has no place in our modern-day society.’
Magadza quotes another human rights lawyer, the director of the International Commission of Jurists, Africa Division, Arnold Tsunga, as saying that Justice Dingake is ‘one of the most intellectually-charged judges in Africa’.
The three books that Magadza refers to are ‘Towards a People’s Constitution for Botswana’, ‘In Pursuit of Justice’ and ‘Judges'.
For more on the man described by Magadza as ‘a remarkable African jurist, judge and scholar’: