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Raymond Zondo has officially been appointed as SA's chief justice. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE.
Raymond Zondo has officially been appointed as SA's chief justice. Picture: KOPANO TLAPE.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed Raymond Zondo as the new chief justice.

In making his decision, Ramaphosa went against the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), which he previously said had gone beyond its brief in recommending Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya. He said it had been required only to advise him on the suitability of the four candidates: Maya, Mbuyiseli Madlanga, Dunston Mlambo and Zondo.

Ramaphosa has nominated Maya as the deputy chief justice, a position that becomes vacant with the appointment of Zondo as the country’s top judge. A statement from the presidency on Thursday said the nomination of Maya will be subject to the consultation processes required by the constitution. Zondo will take up his position on April 1.

In terms of the constitution the president is required to decide who will be the chief justice after consultation with the JSC and political parties represented in the National Assembly.

The JSC, which advises the government on matters relating to the judiciary and administration of justice, has faced a crisis of credibility in recent hearings as politicians — mainly from the EFF — turned them into spectacles and asked judges questions that were seen to be inappropriate and unrelated to their skills.

In a recent engagement with journalists Ramaphosa insisted that he is not bound by the JSC and said in a statement on Thursday that he has “every confidence” that Zondo will “acquit himself with distinction in this position”.

Political attacks

Zondo’s appointment comes towards the conclusion of the commission of inquiry into state capture, which he headed. He was subjected to political attacks, most notably from former president Jacob Zuma and others implicated in whole-scale looting and corruption during the Zuma administration.

The inquiry exposed the extent of capture of the government and state-owned enterprises such as Eskom, SAA and Transnet, which were hollowed out by the siphoning off of funds by the Gupta family and their associates. The family were friends of Zuma and business associates of his son.

The inquiry was also scathing about current ANC leaders who were linked to corruption and accused of taking bribes from facilities company Bosasa.

Zondo’s final report is due at the end of April. Ramaphosa will then take several months to consider the recommendations and report to parliament on the action he plans to take. The inquiry has cost about R1bn and has required several extensions.

The JSC process that led to the recommendation that Maya be appointed was marred by inappropriate interviews of some of the four judges, who had been recommended by a panel of experts appointed by Ramaphosa to recommend who should replace former chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.

The process of appointing Zondo as chief justice has been extraordinarily long, lasting more than six months.

In September, Ramaphosa invited nominations for the position and appointed a panel, chaired by judge Navanethem Pillay, to evaluate nominations made by the public and to shortlist nominees. Ramaphosa chose Madlanga, Maya, Mlambo and Zondo and the JSC assessed their suitability.

In his statement, Ramaphosa said the position of chief justice “carries a great responsibility in our democracy.

“As the head of the judiciary, the chief justice is a guardian of our constitution and the laws adopted by the freely elected representatives of the people.”

Zondo was first appointed as a judge of the labour court in 1997 and was judge president of the labour and labour appeals courts between 2000 and 2010. He has been a judge of the Constitutional Court since 2012 and was appointed as deputy chief justice in 2017.