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Ramaphosa has ‘utmost confidence’ in Zondo as he elevates him to chief justice

Already acting as such, Raymond Zondo will take office on April 1, with Mandisa Maya likely to be his deputy

SA’s new chief justice is Raymond Zondo, the presidency announced on Thursday, and President Cyril Ramaphosa has the “utmost confidence” that he’ll excel.

Zondo, already acting as chief justice, will officially take up office on April 1, said the presidency.

Ramaphosa’s decision followed an extended public nomination and consultation process that culminated in widely criticised interviews by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in February. After the interviews, the JSC recommended Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president Mandisa Maya for the job.

However, in terms of the constitution, the choice is at the president’s discretion. He must consult with the JSC and leaders of political parties in parliament, but he is not bound by their views.

The presidency said Ramaphosa had “indicated his intention” to nominate Maya for deputy chief justice, a post that would become vacant upon Zondo’s elevation.

With Zondo just more than two years from retirement, the choice could be viewed benignly as good succession planning by the president. Zondo, the deputy chief justice after all, is already at the helm of the Constitutional Court, while Maya is an outsider to that court. But critics may see the move as a weak attempt to kick the can down the road after the JSC interviews degenerated into shambles, through no fault of the four candidates — Zondo, Maya, Constitutional Court justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga and Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo.

“This nomination will be subject to the process outlined in Section 174(3) of the Constitution,” it said, a section which requires the president to consult the JSC and leaders of parliamentary political parties.

The chief justice post has been vacant since October last year, when judge Mogoeng Mogoeng retired.

In September 2021, Ramaphosa invited public nominations for the post, appointing a panel, chaired by judge Navanethem Pillay, to evaluate nominations made by the public and shortlist nominees who fulfilled the requirements for nomination.

After considering the report of Pillay’s panel, Ramaphosa identified the four candidates. 

The presidency said Ramaphosa then asked the JSC and political party leaders “to express their views regarding the suitability of any of the four nominees for appointment as chief justice”.

The Sunday Times reported that when the president consulted with political parties in November last year, the ANC supported Maya, the DA had “no objections” to the candidates and the EFF did not respond to the letter from the president.

Though Ramaphosa was criticised for the public nomination process, the presidency said it demonstrated “not only the value that South Africans place on the judiciary, but also the depth of experience and capability within the senior ranks of the judiciary”.

“As the head of the judiciary, the chief justice is a guardian of our constitution and the laws adopted by the freely elected representatives of the people. The chief justice stands as the champion of the rights of all South Africans and bears responsibility for ensuring equal access to justice,” said Ramaphosa.

Zondo was first appointed as a judge of the labour court in 1997 and was judge president of the labour and labour appeal courts from 2000 and 2010.

He was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2012 by former president Jacob Zuma. In that round of interviews, Maya was also recommended for appointment to the highest court by the JSC, but did not get the presidential nod.

Zondo was appointed deputy chief justice in 2017. He was selected to chair the state capture commission by Mogoeng. In this capacity, he must deliver his final report thereon to the president by the end of April.

While he has made a number of requests for extensions, Zondo has also been praised for his work ethic at the inquiry, hearing evidence late into the night over many days to finish on time.

Zondo holds a BJuris degree from the University of Zululand and an LLB from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). He also holds an LLM (cum laude) from the University of South Africa (Unisa).

–Sunday Times

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