Chairperson of the Board, Mrs Mabuza, and members of the Board,
Mr Charles Mooke from Justice College,
Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and thank you for the invitation. I know it’s not your first day on the course, but I would still like to welcome all the deputy sheriffs and administrative staff in the offices of the sheriff for attending this important course for the next few weeks.
As you know, one of the fundamental objects of the Board is the improvement of the standard of training and functions performed by sheriffs and their deputies and that’s why courses, such as this one, are so important in further professionalising our sheriffs and deputies and in equipping and empowering them to deliver better services to the public, to the legal profession and ultimately our courts.
The sheriffs’ profession is not a new one – if one looks at its origins, the sheriff was initially a representative of the King of England.
A history of the sheriffs’ profession tells us the word "sheriff" is a joining of the term "shire” and “reeve".
The term, in Old English, designated a royal official responsible for keeping the peace ("reeve") throughout a shire or county on behalf of the king.
The presence of the sheriff is well-documented, in fact, since the time of the Saxons.
Deputy sheriffs are also not new. King Alfred, who was king of Wessex in England, in 871 AD, in the interest of the better administration of justice, allowed his sheriffs to have deputies.
The sheriff was an unpaid position and the sheriffs had to pay the king a yearly sum to keep their offices. The sheriffs usually made far more from their various duties administering the shires, such as collecting taxes, than the crown asked for, so they still made a profit.
So sheriffs have been important role-players for centuries and they continue to be so till this very day.
Therefore the role and the continuous development of the sheriffs’ profession, within the ambit of our Constitution, is extremely important.
I have on many occasions, in my meetings with the SABFS and the voluntary sheriffs’ organisations, emphasised the important role that deputy sheriffs play as you are at the coalface of the day-to-day interactions with the public and other stakeholders.
You are very much the interface of the sheriffs’ profession. It is through your conduct and the way in which you interact and treat the recipients of court documents and executions, that the public view the profession.
The Ministry and the Department therefore strongly support this triangular partnership programme between the SABFS, Justice College and the SASSETA (South African Safety & Security Education Authority).
The roles of the stakeholders are simultaneously integrated and distinctively organised in respect of the coordination, provision, accreditation and funding of the course. I have been informed that the aim is an ambitious one - as it is envisaged to train 100 learners, to be accredited within the next three months.
The Sheriffs’ Introductory Course is an accredited skills programme and is articulated in line with the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) requirements and is at Level 4 on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).
This is very important as the SABFS, in consultation with the Minister, made a determination in December 2018 that the Sheriffs’ Introductory Course is an appropriate post-matric qualification, which is a minimum qualification required in order to be appointed as a sheriff.
This has also paved the way for sheriffs that do not have a post-matric qualification and who would possibly like to apply for appointment in a larger and more lucrative office to complete this introductory course.
Many sheriffs were not shortlisted by the various advisory committees because they did not have an appropriate post-matric qualification.
I have been informed that none of those sheriffs who lack an appropriate post-matric qualification are attending this course today. If this is correct then it is rather disappointing as this will be to their detriment should they apply for any vacant offices that are be advertised within the next two months.
We have already, in the past, informed the SABFS that we are not exempting any sheriffs from this required qualification, as it will not only be ultra vires the Regulations, but it will also lower the bar should they want to further their careers in the sheriffs’ profession.
Part of the training and development objectives of the SABFS is its transformation agenda. The strategic position of the Board is about continuously mapping a way towards the transformation and reconstruction of the education and training of sheriffs.
The sheriffs’ profession has significantly changed and developed along with our young democracy.
Where the profession was almost exclusively white and male in the early 1990s, in 2001 there were 83% White and 17% Black sheriffs.
In August 2006, some 74% of sheriffs were White, 26% were Black, and the latter also formed part of the now defunct homelands. Women comprised only 13%. Of the 834 Deputy Sheriffs at the time, 563 were White – that amounts to 67,5% - and 271 Black (32,4%) and 21% were female.
Thirteen years later, as at the end of February 2019, there were 254 sheriffs operating nationally – of these 31% were female and 69% male. The racial demographics were 62% Black and 36% White.
Of the 680 deputy sheriffs who were registered by the Board, in terms of demographics, 61,9% are Black 278 and 38% are White. Only 20% of the deputy sheriffs are female.
These figures show some interesting trends: for example, there is an increase in the appointment of female sheriffs, but a decline in the appointment of female deputies since 2007.
There is also a consistent increase in the appointment of Black sheriffs, with it currently standing at 64%, compared to the 17% in 2001.
If one further scrutinises the figures, it becomes apparent that the main challenge in terms of the race and gender profile of the profession lies more at the level of the deputy sheriffs.
This was also raised with the SABFS when they briefed Parliament’s Portfolio Committee in October 2018 and is something that requires a continued focus.
Under the leadership and guidance of the Board much has been done over recent years to professionalize the sheriffs, such as the implementation of a Pledge and Code of Conduct which are vital for improving service delivery by the sheriffs’ profession and in renewing the public’s faith in the profession.
I must also commend the Board on the topics being covered as part of this course, as they are extremely important and relevant to the profession – such as, for example, ethical conduct in a debt recovery work context, the writ of execution and enforcement process and financial administration in a sheriff’s office.
Other important recent developments include the Guidelines for the appointment of deputy sheriffs as approved by the SABFS. As you know, any sheriff or acting sheriff may with the approval of the Board and on such conditions as the Board may determine appoint one or more deputy sheriffs, for whom he or she shall be responsible.
A deputy sheriff may, subject to the directions of the sheriff or acting sheriff appointing him or her, perform the functions of any such sheriff or acting sheriff.
Our Ministry and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development therefore play no role in the appointment of deputy sheriffs, but I did request the SABFS to develop guidelines in the appointment of deputy sheriffs as the Board must approve the appointment of the deputy sheriffs and may also determine the conditions.
Section 1 of the Sheriffs Act provides for the definition of a sheriff and it includes, for purposes of Chapter IV, a deputy sheriff. Chapter IV deals with Improper Conduct and was inserted in 1998 to give the SABFS the power to also investigate and institute misconduct proceedings against a deputy sheriff, if necessary.
I have been informed by the Board that although they have the statutory authority to take misconduct steps against a deputy sheriff, the sheriff will in the normal course take the necessary steps.
I would like to take the opportunity to encourage both the deputy sheriffs and administrators to apply for vacant offices and, if you are not successful the first time, to apply again as the experience will be invaluable. Many serving sheriffs were not necessarily successful the first time around and there are only so many offices that becomes vacant and are advertised.
I have urged the Department to finalize all the outstanding alignments of sheriffs’ areas with the rationalization of the Magistrates’ Courts project during this year - as it is important to have certainty in the profession and it will pave the way for the re-description and allocation of certain areas.
I will be meeting with the Department towards the end of this month to be briefed on the progress made and to be provided with a list of vacant offices that are not affected by the rationalization process and can thus be advertised toward the end of February 2020. We will make the information available to the SABFS and the voluntary organisations.
To conclude, I want to wish you all the best for the remainder of the course.
At all times be mindful of the fact that the sheriff is the face of the civil justice system. All of us, whether we are attorneys, or sheriffs or deputy sheriffs, are officers of the court.
Some of you may have read the novel by Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, called “Things Fall Apart”. The title relates to a poem by William Butler Yeats, called “Second Coming”.
The poem itself was written in 1919, shortly after the end of the First World War. There are obviously many different interpretations, but in the first few lines, in my personal view, the poet is saying that it looks like, in my words, “the bad guys always win”.
It reads -
“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”
We live in a world where one could, at times, be mistaken into believing that lawlessness is gaining the upper hand. How many people act ethically? And how many are corrupt?
Many people turn a blind eye to corruption and we have all seen the effects of state capture on our nation.
We are, from the side of government and especially from the side of the National Prosecuting Authority, cutting out the rot, but it will take time.
Also when one looks at what is happening in many other parts of the world, one could easily think that things are falling apart.
When you speak to any person involved in litigation, they all say more or less the same thing – they simply want justice.
For many people, the sheriff is the face of the justice system and the law because the sheriff is the first person they interact with directly when they take legal action.
For that reason, much is expected from our sheriffs.
They must execute their duties without fear or favour and uphold the Code of Conduct in terms of section 90 of the Sheriffs Act.
They must uphold the dignity and the human rights of those they serve and must, at all times, remember that they are dealing with human beings.
For example, with regards to evictions, yes, sheriffs must follow the law but, at the same time, the sheriff must be concerned about the human beings they are dealing with. It is important that the sheriff act with humanity and compassion – whilst still following the prescripts of the law.
Sheriffs must diligently serve the public and other stakeholders as well as promoting access to justice.
In short, sheriffs are there to help our courts and our justice system to uphold the law. Upholding the law means not allowing things to fall apart.
And we have our unique part to play in achieving this.