An atmosphere of caution as the Constitutional Court gets a new president

By Daily Maverick Legacy 2 October 2009

Amid the farewells for five “Mandela era” constitutional court judges and the appointment of Sandile Ncobo as Judge President on Thursday, the troubles of the court are the unspoken elephant in the room. The departure of Chief Justice Pius Langa and justices Yvonne Mokgoro, Kate O’Regan, Albie Sachs and Tholie Madala is widely seen as the end of an era for the court, partly because the judges played such a significant role in establishing the character of the court. But an atmosphere of caution is evident: We reported yesterday that Ncobo was asked how he would try to heal the rifts in the judiciary, he hedged that he wasn’t going to speak off the cuff as he didn’t think that was appropriate for a judge. President Jacob Zuma intoned the required act of fealty, saying “This government will not infringe on judicial independence.” He took care to assuage the possibly hurt feelings of Deputy Chief Justice Digkang Moseneke, by praising Moseneke for consistency in upholding “the fight for freedom”. After the bruising Hlope battle everyone is being nice to each other, presumably in the hope of allowing the wounds to heal. But given what came up in the public hearings, the new court could be even more interventionist than the past court, so perhaps a temporary lull is the best characterisation of the current state of affairs.

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