Remembering Namibia’s first woman judge

Karen Blum-Marshal

Advocate Karen Blum-Marshall from Windhoek, who died in George, South Africa, at the age of 85 on 17 February, was the first female lawyer and first female acting judge in Namibia.

Admission to the advocate’s profession in Windhoek in the 1960s was tightly controlled by South Africa.

As the law required the applicant to be domiciled in South Africa, and Blum-Marshall was then a domiciled resident in its colony, South West Africa, she and her father, the respected Windhoek advocate Israel Goldblatt, petitioned the South African legislature. Only after South African parliamentary amendments to the law, was she admitted to the Windhoek bar in 1966.

During the 1970s, she was admitted to the bar in the then Transvaal, and from 1988 acted as the first female judge in both Johannesburg and Windhoek.

Throughout her career she experienced the infamous glass ceiling faced by women in their careers.

Having obtained law degrees from the Universities of Cape Town and London, in 1962 she married Werner Blum from Windhoek.

HERITAGE … Karen Blum-Marshall and Zedekia Ngavirue with docu- ments from her father, legal counsel Israel Goldblatt, at the National Ar- chives of Namibia in 2010. Photo: Basler Afrika Bibliographien

The 1960s in Windhoek proved formative for her political views. Her father had established clandestine talks and law classes with Namibian nationalists Clemens Kapuuo and other members of the Herero Chiefs Council, engaged with the imprisoned Caprivian leader and Swapo’s then vice president Brendan Simbwaye, and acted for the “prohibited immigrant” Dr Kenneth Abrahams and his Namibian wife Ottilie Schimming.

Subsequently, South West Africa National Union’s (Swanu) president in exile, Jariretundu Kozonguizi, accused Goldblatt and his daughter of fostering “anti-Swanu” contacts in Windhoek’s Old Location.

At the same time, the South African security police placed their homes under surveillance.

Only in the late 1980s and then as the minister of justice in one of the so-called interim governments in Windhoek under South African auspices, did Kozonguizi change his assessment.

As reported in The Namibian at the time, in a public lecture on the Namibian liberation struggle, he named “apart from Michael Scott […] advocate Israel Goldblatt and his daughter Karen, and Hannes Smith of the Windhoek Observer as whites who were ‘prepared to ascertain the views of the black man’”.

While there were a few more “white men” in this regard, there were hardly any other “white women” prepared to do so in the Windhoek of the 1960s.

In 1988, Karen Blum married Don Marshall, head of the legal and administrative department of the Johannesburg City Council.

Living in retirement in Hoekwil near Wilderness, South Africa, since the mid-1990s, she and her sister, the sculptress Naomi Jacobson, embarked with this author on researching and publishing the book ‘Israel Goldblatt: Building Bridges – Namibian Nationalists Clemens Kapuuo, Hosea Kutako, Samuel Witbooi, Brendan Simbwaye’ (Basler Afrika Bibliographien 2010).

The book launch and paper deposits at the National Archives of Namibia rekindled exchanges between the widespread Goldblatt family and nationalists and intellectuals such as reverend Bartholomews Karuaera, Zedekia Ngavirue and Peter Katjavivi.

Karen Marshall is survived by her daughters Dominique Malherbe and Roxanne Blum with families, and Werner Blum.

  • Dag Henrichsen is a historian attached to Basler Afrika Bibliographien’s Namibia Resource Centre in Basel, Switzerland.

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