Tribute to Prof Justice Key Dingake, the man

Legal Eagle: Dingake
Legal Eagle: Dingake

On December 6, 2019 Mmegi published an article on Professor Dingake written by one Moses Magadza, an award-winning journalist and a PhD Student.

In his piece about this son of the soil, he devotes much of his write up on the professional achievements of this eminent judge.

I was reminded of a paragraph I had drafted on three people I had wanted to express my thoughts on. These were Professor Key Dingake himself, Kgalalelo Monthe and Dutch Leburu.

The three have some common traits. They are male, from the Bobonong area and brilliant lawyers. Of the three, two have developed potbellies (that is Monthe and Dingake), while Dutch has somehow managed to retain his figure. Their work ethic can also be characterised as ranging from being studious, hard-working and at times brilliantly lazy.

I will not say which category characterises whom. I mention Dutch and Monthe not as primary characters in this piece but as subjects of the paragraph I long drafted and never completed. They have in their own ways impacted on my life in a manner that I would never be able to fully repay them. Hopefully one day, before we are old, senile and on our deathbeds, I will complete the story on each. For now I address myself to the man, Key Dingake. 

Who is Key Dingake? I thought the question was easy to answer until I started on this piece. It has not been an easy task. I have avoided to dwell on the man’s professional achievements, for many writers have touched on those. I wanted to humanise him, for very often professional achievements often overshadow a man’s personality.

I was not attempting an obituary of this great man. To understand his life as a man I have had to discretely ask other people close to him about who the man was. I did so because to his loved ones, he is a father, husband, brother and child. Whilst to the world, he might be something else.

Back at University of Botswana, two male lecturers in the law department were considered very handsome, eloquent and very popular with the student community. The two were Professor Dingake and Advocate Duma Boko. Don’t ask me who considered them handsome. Just know they had a section of the student community that passionately thought so, this section was clearly not male. I first got to know about Prof Dingake when I entered the university as a freshman in 1994. He taught Constitutional law and administrative law. His classes were a must to attend. Besides the good looks and the eloquence, he had a way of teaching law that made it look very simple.

Not one big on confusing words, he taught law with such clarity, simplicity and demonstrated his familiarity with legal principles covering a wide range of legal issues. He was never aware of his good looks.  If he was, he never showed it. I must admit that, to this day, I haven’t met any better looking man from Bobonong apart from Key. He was never a man who walked casually or slowly. Every time he came out of class, he would walk like he was either running away from something or like a man in a hurry to get somewhere. Some of us learnt years later, he would not have actually been running away but that he would have been going to read and write something on and about the law. With his hearty laugh, he was always easy to be around, maybe slightly intimidating. One avoided scholarly discussions for fear of appearing unknowledgeable. We all knew he fancied a light-skinned woman in the faculty of business, who would later become his wife. Her name was Tshimologo.

There was another reason why Dingake was popular. He had been a student leader, a member of Mass, BNF activist, trade unionist, a communist and socialist, all rolled in one. Stories about him were the stuff of legends. One just had to know him. When one met him, one immediately noticed his slim body structure. Suddenly he didn’t seem intimidating but what he lacked in body structure he compensated with intellectual finesse and superiority.

He was never driven by money or fame. Fame found him because he believed in a course. During those days it wasn’t popular to identify oneself with the opposition. The political philosophy of the opposition appealed to him but he never used it to the detriment of anyone who appeared before his court. Not a man of many friends, his closest friends were Innocent Modisaotsile and Dick Bayford, with whom he was more than a friend, he was a soul mate both in law and politics, to borrow the phrase of his lovely wife, Tshimologo Dingake.

Although I was one of the students he would give research assignments, he never invited me to his wedding to Tshimologo Dingake in 2000, with whom he has five children. Over the years, I have learnt to forgive him. I was privileged not only to be taught by this legal guru, but also had the opportunity to appear before him at the Industrial Court and the High Court. He was never one to be intimidated by any occasion or what society thought of the case that was before him.

You were guaranteed fairness, openness and justice. You appeared before him with confidence that he would do the right thing. He was always engaging, fun and respectful. Even if he knew more than you, he would never show it. He was very patient and never one afraid to come to the rescue of those being oppressed by the system.

On a few occasions he would appear too liberal because he believed people should think outside the box. He was not a black letter lawyer or jurist. He was always engaging. He knew that being a judge was about service and never about the judge. He never belittled those who appeared before him because he was accomplished in his own right and required no validation. It is for the reason that he always strived to issue judgements within the shortest period possible. Usually those judgements were given under four weeks. Indeed, we used to call him Lord Denning. 

He was as brilliant as Ian Kirby but more colourful and unrestrained in his pursuit of justice for all. Justice Ian Kirby on the other hand grandfathered the law. A brilliant world-class jurist not given to experimentation. If one wanted to test the boundaries of the law, you went to Dingake and if you wanted confirmation of the law, you went to Kirby, the godfather.

As I pay tribute to the man, I know what I have said will never be enough and probably does little do justice to who he is. A humble man that he is, he will not however think he has not been properly acknowledged for it is not in his nature to seek validation. His wife said this about him, ‘my husband is no angel, but he is the best thing a woman can wish for.’

To me, Professor Dingake is a jurist, scholar, humanitarian and a person whom I love and cherish. He has been bestowed so many awards and honours but these have not changed him. He will forever remain my teacher. From the dusty streets of Bobonong, to the paved capitals of the world, from playing soccer, volleyball to high jump, the son of the soil has made us all proud. I salute you Professor Dr Key Dingake. May the Good Lord bless and protect you.

*Sadique Kebonang is Dingake’s former law student at the University of Botswana and an admitted Advocate.

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