Judge Lionel Melunsky 2008

In a legal career spanning more than half a century, Judge Lionel Melunsky has devoted himself, as advocate and judge, to the highest principles of the law. 

As a student at Rhodes University, he played an active role on the executive committee of the National Union of South African Students – at that time an institution working for equal education and opposed to the establishment of separate universities for different races.  After starting practice in Port Elizabeth in 1956, he authored a number of publications and lectured part-time when Rhodes University established its Port Elizabeth branch.

He was a founding member of the local branch of Lawyers for Human Rights and later, on the bench, presented various papers to lawyers and others on the Bill of Rights.  Amongst others, he was leading counsel in a case fought in Port Elizabeth in 1989 in which he successfully applied for beach apartheid laws to be abolished.  As a result, beach apartheid was declared invalid – a significant legal victory. Another matter was the well-known Fingo-land case near Humansdorp.

Although asked several times to take an appointment to the Bench after becoming a senior counsel, he declined by reason that he could not support apartheid apparatus.  It was only after President De Klerk had expressed the government’s intention to abolish apartheid practices, in particular the death sentence, that he accepted an appointment to the High Court at the beginning of 1991.

He later served a three-year term with distinction in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein before requesting retirement in 2001.  The system of justice in South Africa is all the poorer for his absence. The following year he accepted an invitation to serve in a permanent capacity in the Court of Appeal of the Kingdom of Lesotho, a position which he still holds.

He believes implicitly in the overriding need for impartial justice, the right of representation in the courts and in the protection of the individual.  He has zealously, with distinction and integrity, pursued these values, earning respect for his conduct in his profession and as a human being.

Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University recognises Judge Lionel Melunsky’s firm belief in the Rule of Law, equality amongst people and his faultless integrity and is honoured to present him with the Council Prestige Award.