Politics

Concourt judges: the nerd, the farmer, the youngster and the Scorpion

By Branko Brkic 12 October 2009

It could have been a lot worse, and it it could have been a lot better. Meet the (now official) new guardians of the Constitution.

Judge Mogoeng Thomas Reetsang Mogoeng was the President of the North West Judicial Division. He’s a relatively young man and has attracted most of the criticism from opposition parties. Their main gripe is that he’s not experienced enough, hasn’t dealt much with constitutional law, and had a slight ethical problem during the Truth Commission (he didn’t stop a hearing when he realized his wife was the prosecutor in a case he was hearing). He’s also been stuck in the back of beyond for a long time, and so is not seen as someone who’s close to the legal cutting edge. Generally, he was seen as the weakest candidate selected by the Judicial Services Commission.

Judge Sisi Sibongile Virginia Khampepe is from the South Gauteng High Court. She will be familiar to most people through her chairing of the Khampepe Commission. Famously, it recommended that the Scorpions be retained, and that changes be made to the structural relationship between intelligence agencies, the then Safety and Security Ministry and the police. More famously, none of her recommendations were followed. She is seen as independent, clever and thorough.

Judge Johan Coenraad Froneman sat in the Eastern Cape and comes from a farm in the area. But as soon as the new Constitution was promulgated, he internalised it very quickly. He’s admitted that he got so far in the JSC process because he simply “got it”, and started to rule in favour of the little guy. Some of his most significant cases have involved disputes between poor local residents and the Eastern Cape provincial government. Those cases brought him to the eye of the ANC. Expect carefully reasoned judgments against landlords from him.

Judge Christopher Nyaole Jafta is perhaps the most experience of the four. From the Supreme Court of Appeal, and with experience as an acting Constitutional Court Judge, he was always going to get his time in Braamfontein. He would have preferred his time at the court to have gone more smoothly, but that hope was dashed when Judge John Hlophe tried to give him a nudge about the Zuma cases. However, he’s come through that a stronger person, and it hasn’t hurt him legally speaking. He’s a quiet man, but fiercely independent and unlikely to bend for anyone. He’ll be the nerd on the court (because you need a couple of those at the highest court in the land).

By Stephen Grootes 

(Grootes is EWN reporter, ewn.co.za)

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