South Africa


Judge Mandisa Maya set to be SA’s next Chief Justice

Judge Mandisa Maya set to be SA’s next Chief Justice
Illustrative image | The Constitutional Court. (Photo: Flickr / SouthAfricaSafari) / Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya has been given the nod by President Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the country’s judiciary come September.

South Africa looks set to get its first female Chief Justice when the term of the incumbent, Raymond Zondo, ends on 31 August.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Presidency announced that Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya would be President Cyril Ramaphosa’s nomination to succeed Chief Justice Zondo.

“President Ramaphosa has invited the leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly to make submissions on the suitability or otherwise of Deputy Chief Justice Maya to hold the office of Chief Justice,” the statement read.

In reality, however, this is something of a box-ticking exercise.

Although the President is constitutionally required to consult on the appointment, he has — to quote judicial watchdog Judges Matter — “far more discretion in choosing the Chief Justice than with other judges”.

And while Ramaphosa’s consultation must be “meaningful”, Judges Matter notes that “the President is not bound to follow the input received from other political leaders, or even from the JSC [Judicial Service Commission] itself”.

Maya a previous favourite of the JSC

In nominating just one candidate for Chief Justice, Ramaphosa may be hoping to avoid a repeat of the borderline chaotic scenes that erupted in 2022 when it became time to appoint the successor to erstwhile Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

On that occasion, four candidates went head to head in front of the JSC. In running a more competitive process, Ramaphosa was, ironically, probably trying to forestall the criticism that former president Jacob Zuma received by favouring a sole candidate in Mogoeng.

But the results were disastrous. In what was arguably the JSC’s lowest and most shameful ebb, the interviews of two candidates — Judge Dunstan Mlambo and Judge Zondo — were almost totally derailed by attempted political hit-jobs from a JSC cabal led by advocate Dali Mpofu and EFF leader Julius Malema.

Judge Maya was a candidate on that occasion too — and was perversely disadvantaged, as we noted at the time, by being given an extremely insubstantial interview with an almost offensive focus on her gender.

The majority of JSC commissioners during the 2022 interviews seemed predisposed to support Judge Maya — including Malema, which in itself attracted suspicion from some quarters.

So confident was Malema that Judge Maya would win the post that he tweeted from within the JSC deliberations: “It’s a Girl”.

Indeed, the JSC went on to announce that Judge Maya was the body’s recommendation for Chief Justice. Ramaphosa, as was his legal right, chose to appoint a different candidate.

There was some speculation at the time that Judge Zondo’s appointment, which was always going to run only a little over two years due to mandatory judicial retirement, was something of a thank-you gift for his service to the country in taking on the unenviable task of running the State Capture inquiry.

Mlambo set to miss out again

Although Judge Maya’s nomination is a characteristically diplomatic Ramaphosa move, there will be those ruing the fact that Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo will once again miss the chance to lead South Africa’s courts. Judge Mlambo is renowned as something of an administrative wizard and in legal circles is considered an excellent candidate for Chief Justice.

Insiders say Judge Maya is somewhat more controversial: viewed as a more political candidate than might be desirable.

She is, however, likely to be a popular choice more widely, and is understood to be a favourite candidate within the ANC National Executive Committee.

It is unclear whether any other political parties will mount an objection to Judge Maya’s candidacy.

There is no disputing the fact that the judge has a wealth of experience, with several extremely impressive features on her CV. Among them: in 2022, she was endorsed for the position of Chief Justice by the deans of almost every law school in the country.

She was also the first judge in South African history to write a significant judgment in isiXhosa.

Appearing on Newszroom Afrika on Tuesday, the DA’s spokesperson on legal matters, Glynnis Breytenbach, described Judge Maya as “fit for purpose”, adding that there was nothing to “gainsay” her appointment.

Breytenbach expressed some disappointment, however, that Ramaphosa had chosen not to conduct more of an open and participatory appointment process on this occasion. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Henry Henry says:

    The one that appeared next to the ANC logo on an ANC election flyer a few months ago?

  • Martin Neethling says:

    It is inevitable that her appointment will be scrutinised, every judgement she has penned dissected, and her political friends fully unveiled. Concern shouldn’t be confined to ‘some quarters’, but to everyone hanging on to the idea that our judiciary (or the best parts of it at least), is all that stands between us and a regime that would like to do its work unfettered by Law or Scrutiny. Malema and the EFF’s support for her is a MASSIVE worry. It may be that she was just the pawn in some game of settling old scores, and the DA’s Breytenbach’s assurances go a long way, but we are entitled to be sceptical, given choices of recent Public Protectors. As a general guide, if more is written and celebrated about her gender rather than her jurisprudence then we have a problem. Davis should lead the ‘fact checking’ that should now follow.

    • Pet Bug says:

      Agree. Davis does a too short-shrift here, – there were numerous and substantial concerns raised about Maya two years ago; now nothing to report…?
      And again the best candidate did not get appointed. By a politician.

      What gene defects do politicians possess to continuously not do the obviously right thing?

  • M D Fraser says:

    Judge Maya has everything going for her, race, gender, ANC favourite – can’t miss !

  • Geoff Coles says:

    A political candidate….even Ms Davis recognises that and it’s not good.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      I agree.

      The government should be absolutely scrupulous about selecting a candidate with no hint of bias. This is indeed another concern to add to an already huge pile of governance concerns

  • Vic Mash says:

    Because she is a woman?

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