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South Africans love to read the tea leaves — to see in small fragments a prediction of our larger fate. As fragments go, the recent Judicial Service Commission (JSC) interviews for judicial appointments were hardly small. That fragment doesn’t just say something potentially profound about the fate of our constitutional democracy: in itself it has profound things to say about our judiciary and the administration of justice.

The interviews for the Constitutional Court, SA’s highest court, were especially hard to watch. The interview of judge Dhaya Pillay in particular was an unconscionable spectacle. Commissioner Julius Malema was allowed to scream at and berate her with no intervention from fellow commissioners. Not only was there no intervention, but the chief justice, presiding over the process, then hijacked her interview to make several supposed revelations of his own. She, not being party to the incident he recalled, could not fairly be expected to respond in any way that ...

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