A combination of hard work and dogged dedication has seen André le Grange go from the son of “an ordinary factory worker” to where he currently sits as a High Court judge.
Judge Le Grange laughs as he says, “It was only by coincidence that I ended up studying law.”
Expanding on this fortunate coincidence, the Elsies River-born, Matroosfontein-raised Judge, says: “The 80s was a period of tremendous upheaval, so I initially did not pass matric with an exemption, which meant I could not really study for a degree. One day, I was on my way to the then Department of Coloured Affairs to try and get an apprenticeship through them. I took the train to Bellville because they were based in Belville South but, because it was orientation week at UWC, I decided to get off there and check it out.
“It was there that I got to speak to Taswell Papier, one of the top lawyers in town, who was doing orientation for the law department. He said I could do a diploma in law, which didn’t need me to have an exemption, and that’s how I started my legal career.”
While the fortuitous visit to the university might have sparked his interest in pursuing a career in law, getting his studies kick-started – and staying the course – were not without challenges.
Says Judge Le Grange: “When I came home that afternoon, I told my father I needed R30 to register for my studies. He just looked at me and said, ‘Where am I going to get that kind of money?’ But, you know, he went and borrowed that R30. Through my studies, I did part-time work at a liquor store. Until just before I started my first job, in fact.”
Working part-time was not all he did to ensure he made a success of his chosen field of study.
“Because I didn’t obtain an exemption, I went back to school, Spes Bona in Athlone, after my first year at university. It was hard. My friends were laughing at me because I was 20 years old and back in matric. One year I was walking around in casual clothes, going to university, and the next I’m back in school uniform. But I did it. I finally passed matric with an exemption.”
The Bergvliet resident’s first job in the legal profession – as a public prosecutor in East London – also came with its own, albeit fresh, set of challenges.
“It was hard,” he concedes, “because I was starting this job in a new place.
Also, because I was from UWC, there were questions around whether I really understood the law and whether I could actually do the job,” he laughs, wryly.
Appointed permanently to his current position in 2007, Judge Le Grange says: “Largely, my success is a result of my parents and the guidance of mentors, teachers, peers and colleagues. I am extremely grateful for that, because I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that.”
It is, more than likely as a result of this that he adds: “Mentorship is vital, because one can attain good grades, but you need the help of a parent, teachers and colleagues to be truly successful.”
If there was, I ask, one piece of his heard-earned wisdom he would like to impart onto the youth, what would that be?
Mulling it over for a while, he finally offers: “I don’t want to use a cliché, but I’d probably say that whatever circumstances you find yourself in, never become a victim to them. Educate yourself, learn from others; other achievers around you.
“But most importantly, understand yourself. Understanding yourself is very, very important; understanding your own needs and your own shortcomings and knowing where you come from.
“And to dream. One must always be able to dream,” says Judge Le Grange.