Zondo thanks Zuma for beginning move to independent judiciary, calls on Ramaphosa to do more
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said an independent judiciary would be able to solve problems such as load shedding and dilapidated court buildings more effectively.
Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has praised Jacob Zuma for establishing the Office of the Chief Justice during his term as president.
Zondo, who previously presided over the Commission of inquiry into State Capture, was speaking on the first official day of the 2023 Judges’ Conference, which is focused on fostering the independence of the judiciary and improving court processes.
Zondo also issued a challenge to the Ramaphosa administration to complete the work that Zuma had started by making the judiciary fully independent.
Zuma established the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) through a proclamation in 2010. However, the department still relies heavily on the Department of Justice, which oversees the administration of court buildings and holds budgets for appointments of judges and magistrates. Judges have been advocating for the OCJ to become fully independent and before his appointment as Chief Justice, Zondo said he would prioritise making the office fully independent.
“The Office of the Chief Justice is one of the institutions that we have created over the last years to ensure that members of the public have a place to go. Under apartheid there was no such body. I want to take this opportunity to thank all judges who give up their time to make sure this committee operates,” Zondo said.
“[The OCJ] was established by President Zuma. This was a very important step on our journey to a complete institutional independence as the judiciary. And we must take this opportunity to express our appreciation that President Zuma during his term established this institution. It now remains for those who came after him to take this project for the institutional independence of the judiciary further.”
There has been intimidation, even during the July unrest. Petrol bombs were shown to say certain houses would be burnt.
Zondo said the judiciary had set up a committee to research the formats that an independent judiciary could take in the South African context and had been ready to discuss the issue further with the government for more than 10 years, but had heard nothing from the executive.
“The reason for the delay has really been because the executive took 10 years to respond. They were given the judiciary’s proposal. We couldn’t force them to respond if they didn’t feel it was the right time,” he said in a press conference on day one of the event.
During his opening address, Zondo also spoke about challenges that judges and magistrates are facing in court that affect their work. In some cases magistrates were forced to park on the street because there was no dedicated parking and were then confronted by the accused in cases.
Load shedding and dilapidated buildings also led to magistrates and judges working under poor conditions. He believed an independent judiciary would be able to solve these problems effectively.
“We must fight for the full institutional independence of the judiciary where we can fight for the funds to make sure the courts run properly,” he said. “That will remain one of the most important moments in the history of the judiciary. When the highest court was defied and threats were made against judges, they stood their ground. And there are high courts that have done the same in various matters.” Zondo said these judges showed commitment to their oath of office.
Asked about personal attacks on judges, Zondo said he was not aware of any relating to Zuma cases. However, Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo reminded him that Judge Keoagile Matojane had received threats on his personal phone.
Matojane had been “personally hysterical” and was so concerned for his safety that he wanted to move to another house.
“That related to another matter involving Mr Zuma and not about defying the court order. Of course, apart from that, threats were made against other judges. There has been intimidation, even during the July unrest. Petrol bombs were shown to say certain houses would be burnt. I’ve become aware that there are people facing charges in KwaZulu-Natal relating to unrest. One of the charges is that they conspired to kill me. Threats do get made. It’s quite important that judges be protected. One of the protections is the public that appreciates the role of judges and stands up for them,” Zondo said.
The conference will continue until 7 December and most of it is closed to the public. Judges from Kenya, Tanzania and Namibia will also address the conference. DM