Lex Mpati 2011


Lex Mpati was born in Durban on 5 September 1949. He attended St Joseph’s Catholic School in Fort Beaufort and Mary Walters High School in Grahamstown where he matriculated in 1967.

During the following 12 years, Lex earned a living working his way through the ranks of furniture salesperson, petrol attendant and barman until he was able to start studying law at Rhodes University, graduating with a BA in 1982 and an LLB in 1984.

After completing his articles, he practised as an attorney in a partnership in Grahamstown. Much of his practice as an attorney coincided with the troubled times in the Eastern Cape in the late 1980s.  Lex was one of the few practitioners committed to the unfashionable work of representing the interests of far-flung communities throughout the Karoo, whose cases never made the headlines, but whose human rights were as important as those whose cases caught the attention of the media. 

After having served as Secretary of the Grahamstown Side-Bar Association between 1985 and 1987, Lex joined the Eastern Cape Society of Advocates in Grahamstown in 1989 until 1993 when he joined the Legal Resources Centre as its in-house counsel, continuing to serve rural communities as far afield as Barkley East. 

In 1994, he served as co-chair of the Greater Grahamstown Local Government Negotiation Forum, leading the negotiations to establish a single non-racial local authority in the town.  He was also a member of the delegation to Chile which studied the Chilean truth and reconciliation committee with a view to the establishment of the South African body in due course. In 1996, former president Nelson Mandela appointed Lex as senior counsel and, soon thereafter, he was appointed as an acting judge.  He was permanently appointed to the Eastern Cape Bench on 1 February 1997.

After having served as an acting Judge of Appeal for 18 months, Lex became the first black person appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal in December 2000. He was elevated to the position of Deputy President of the Court in 2003 and became President, the second highest judicial office in South Africa, in 2008.

His great passion for rugby started in high school and he later captained the Old Collegians RFC in Grahamstown and played at centre for the South Eastern Districts Rugby Union.  Furthering his love for the game, he served in various capacities on SARU and SARFU structures.  His arrival to conduct courts cases at distant centres like Middelburg often provided an opportunity for local rugby administrators and players to seek guidance and advice. He was a member of the national executive of the SA Rugby Union from 1992 to 1994 and has been a member of the National Judicial Committee of SARFU, which he chaired for two years, since 1994. In 2003, Lex was appointed by the International Rugby Board as judicial officer for the Rugby World Cup in Australia and has been a member of the SANZAR (South Africa/New Zealand/Australian Rugby) Judicial Committee since 2007.

He is married, with four children, two sons and two daughters.   

Lex Mpati’s outstanding characteristic throughout his legal career has been his compassion for the ordinary citizen, the weak and the defenceless. In recognition of his contribution to the transformation of the South African legal profession and the struggle for the respect of human rights as well as the respect he commands as a judicial officer, it is an honour for NMMU to confer the degree of Doctor of Law (honoris causa) on LEX MPATI.