Portia Sizani loses bid to have magistrate step aside

Portia “Pankie” Sizani, wife of South Africa’s ambassador to Germany Stone Sizani, will have to stay the course in her fraud and money laundering trial after she failed in her High Court bid to review the presiding magistrate’s decision not to recuse himself.

The 49-year-old former Early Childhood Development (ECD) district coordinator stands accused of defrauding the provincial education department of about R1.2-million by creating “ghost” teachers and pocketing their salaries between 2009 and 2010.

Sizani contended that acting regional magistrate in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Port Elizabeth, Mputumi Mpofu, was biased against her and she applied for him to recuse himself.

Mpofu rejected her allegations of bias and refused to recuse himself. Sizani resorted to the Grahamstown High Court to review his decision.

It was argued that Sizani had developed the perception of bias from the way in which Mpofu always ruled against her during her trial.

Sizani’s counsel Advocate Johan Wessels said the magistrate’s bias was so overt that some of his unfair rulings during the trial might amount to material irregularities.

He said Mpofu had not been open to argument or persuasion even when direct evidence of undisputable fact had been placed before him, said Wessels.

But Judge Jeremy Pickering said while it could be argued that the magistrate’s reasoning might at times be open to criticism, no malicious intent could be read into his decisions.

He found Mpofu had considered all submissions carefully before making decisions.

Wessels had also attacked Mpofu’s decision not to discharge the case against Sizani in its entirety despite poor evidence from the State.

He said this was also an indication of bias. But Pickering pointed out that Mpofu had discharged five of the counts against Sizani.

Pickering said that none of the alleged manifestations of bias pointed out by Sizani could give rise to a perception of bias on the part of a reasonable or objective person.

Sizani’s trial will proceed in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court.

It was in September postponed to February next year pending the outcome of the review application.