South Africa

SA CONSTITUTIONAL COURT

Ramaphosa announces shortlist of four for Chief Justice position

From left: Deputy Chief Justice Judge Raymond Zondo at the ConCourt at Constitutional Hill on December 13, 2019 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Freddy Mavunda © Financial Mail) / President of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) Mandisa Maya opens up during an interview at her offices on August 04, 2017 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Alon Skuy) / Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga in Johannesburg on 13 August 2018. (Photo: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Deaan Vivier) / Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo. (Photo: Supplied)

The Judicial Service Commission will consider four candidates for the position of Chief Justice, including two Constitutional Court justices, the Supreme Court of Appeal President and the Gauteng Judge President.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has submitted the names of four candidates to succeed former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. They are:

  • Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga,
  • President of the Supreme Court of Appeal Mandisa Maya,
  • Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo and
  • Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

They will now be interviewed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and considered by leaders of political parties in Parliament.

Ramaphosa, who announced the four candidates on Wednesday, made his submission to the JSC after considering the recommendations of a panel headed by Judge Navanethem Pillay.

The Pillay Panel evaluated more than 500 candidates submitted by the public and said eight people fulfilled the requirements for nomination.

The eight were Madlanga, Maya, Mlambo and Zondo as well as Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, Dr Wallace Mqoqi, Advocate Alan Nelson SC and Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe. Mqoqi and Mkhwebane both withdrew from the race.

The Presidency said Ramaphosa put forward the four candidates “after considering the report of the nomination panel”, suggesting the panel cut Nelson and Hlophe from the list.

Hlophe is facing impeachment after a Judicial Conduct Committee Tribunal found he had committed gross misconduct in attempting to persuade two Constitutional Court justices to rule in former president Jacob Zuma’s favour in a 2008 case.

Nelson (69) was the oldest shortlisted candidate for the 10-year post and has limited experience as a judge, but he is renowned for championing mediation to resolve protracted legal disputes.

The JSC’s 23 commissioners will now hold public interviews with Madlanga, Maya, Mlambo and Zondo.

In an explainer on the Chief Justice appointment process, Alison Tilley from Judges Matter wrote, “It is no secret that the JSC interviews are vigorous in their nature; however, they must be so within the confines of fairness and equality. Following deliberations, the JSC must advise the president on the candidates’ suitability (there is nothing prohibiting the JSC from ranking their preferred candidates for Chief Justice).

“In the past, JSC interviews have turned into a spectacle that does more to boost the egos of politicians and lawyers than a serious attempt to select the best candidates for high judicial office. The last interview for Chief Justice in 2011 was also unnecessarily combative, with moments of high drama.”

Madlanga was appointed as a Constitutional Court justice in 2013, taking the post while he was serving as the chief evidence leader at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

Maya has led the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) since 2017 and if appointed would be South Africa’s first female Chief Justice. She reportedly helped the SCA overcome divisions among its members and has acted as a judge at the Constitutional Court.

Mlambo was appointed Judge President of the Gauteng Division of the High Court in 2012. He has been lauded for his leadership skills in the province as well as when he served as Judge President of the Labour Court. He served on the Supreme Court of Appeal from 2003 to 2010, but hasn’t acted at the Constitutional Court.

Zondo is by far the best-known of the nominees. He was appointed Deputy Chief Justice in 2017 and was appointed by Mogoeng to chair the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, a role that has made him a household name.

At the inquiry, Zondo’s objectivity and displays of legal intellect won him wide respect, but a number of witnesses, such as Zuma, accused him of bias, while other critics have questioned the multiple extensions the inquiry has requested. At the JSC, he is likely to face politically charged questions about the State Capture inquiry.

Tilley recommended the JSC draft a set of criteria before the interviews and stick to them. “All questions must be based on these criteria and the chairperson must actively enforce constraints on the scope of questioning permitted, including by overruling inappropriate questions,” she said.

Following the JSC interviews, leaders of political parties in Parliament can comment in writing on the suitability of the Chief Justice candidates. Ramaphosa, following consultation with the JSC and political parties, then has the responsibility to select the next Chief Justice, who will lead the Constitutional Court and South Africa’s judiciary. DM

Following initial publication, this article was amended with the correct image of Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga. 

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All Comments 6

  • The third picture from left is not that of Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga but former National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Mxolisi Nxasana.

    • Well spotted. I just hope for the sake of transparency, that each candidate will indeed be awarded a fair interview by the JSC, in whom I have limited trust. Neither do have trust in discussions Ramaphosa will have with political leaders. Already Malema has made his view very clear regarding Dep. Chief Justice Zondo, and to then consult with him is simply already unfair . The JSC also is very politicised, as the interviews for high court judges proved, as well as the handling of the Judge Hlophe affair

      • I couldn’t agree more about the likes of JSC and Malema. However, the fact that the constitution provides that the president should make a decision “after consultation” NOT “in consultation” with leaders of political parties may be a saving grace. Ramaphosa is not required to get their agreement but merely inform political party leaders of his decision after the JSC interviews. The interesting question though is the person who will be chairing the interviews. Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice are chairperson and deputy chairperson of the JSC respectively. However, in this case both acting CJ Raymond Zondo and acting DCJ Mbuyiseli Madlanga are candidates. Very interesting!

        • Again, well spotted. Truth be told, that there is only one of these candidates that will have the guts to go against the governing party’s idiotic cadre deployment policy. All of them are good judges, but this country has moved beyond being good. You need a person who has proven him(her)self to rip everything to pieces and go against anything that politicians has screwed up for the last 20-odd years

      • DM, fire the person responsible for the mistake, a serious one, The issues DM comes up with are very serious, and incompetent employees are simply not required, unless you want to be viewed in the same light as News24