I was lynched, Hlophe tells JSC hearing
Cape Judge President John Hlophe on Thursday claimed he had been subjected to a public lynching in the way the Constitutional Court handled a complaint against him.
“For 17 days I was being lynched and that was caused by my colleagues,” he told an inquiry into his alleged attempts to influence a judgement relating to President Jacob Zuma.
In long-awaited evidence at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) preliminary hearing into the matter in Johannesburg, Hlophe, a nominee for chief justice, said he felt as though there were political motives behind the allegation, which he denies.
He said there had also been moves to get him to accept a monetary settlement (R10-million was later mentioned by JSC sub-committee chairperson Judge Bernard Ngoepe) to leave the judiciary.
He repeatedly said he accepted the judges’ rights to lay the complaint against him, but objected to the way they went about it and how it was made public before the complaint was officially laid.
He also accepted “wholeheartedly” the judges’ explanation that they wanted to protect the integrity of the court by laying the complaint and making it public.
But he found it offensive that they sat as a court and found him guilty without giving him a hearing and without “picking up the phone” to him before going public.
“I was lynched and insulted because of their conduct.”
He continued: “You don’t go public and insult a fellow colleague on untested allegations and then go ‘oh by the way let’s lay a complaint with the JSC’.”
He rejected their explanation that it was a bid to avoid the possibility of a leak to the public.
“The obligation was to report the matter to the JSC [not the media first] and let the process run its course. Report me to the JSC? No problem.”
He earlier denied that he tried to influence acting Judge Chris Jafta and Judge Bess Nkabinde on a ruling on whether search and seizure warrants for Zuma’s homes and his lawyer’s offices were legal.
“I never said the ruling of the court should be in favour of Zuma.”
He said he was at the court by appointment when he met Nkabinde because he wanted to congratulate her about her new appointment.
He was in Johannesburg at the invitation of the chief justice, who had asked him to chair a committee on a judicial matter.
They chatted generally and he spotted some files in the corner of her office and they got to talking about privilege—the searching of a lawyer’s office and confiscation of private client notes in the Zuma raids—which he said was a hot topic among lawyers and the judiciary.
He denied saying he had a mandate to discuss the Zuma matter and that he was somehow connected to the National Intelligence Agency.
Hlophe said he found it strange that the only political parties to be mailed the press statement about the Constitutional Court judges’ complaint was the Democratic Alliance, as they were always “after him” in the Western Cape.
If he had wanted to sway the Zuma judgement he would have tried to approach more than two judges, he said, adding that he made no follow-up phone calls to these judges.
He and Jafta also spoke generally during their meeting and generally about the Zuma case because he didn’t have any of the facts of the case at hand.
He repeatedly said he did not try to influence them.
“How could I?” he asked
Telling his side of the story, Jafta said he and Hlophe were old friends from their days at the University of the Transkei, where Hlophe was a head of department and he was a lecturer in Constitutional Law.
Their wives were also friends and they saw each other at judicial meetings after they became judges.
When Hlophe went to visit him at the Constitutional Court in March 2008, he didn’t find the meeting itself unusual, but did find the discussion that took place on the pending judgement relating to search and seizure warrants issued against Zuma unusual.
“It’s unusual because we don’t discuss pending cases [if they are not one of the judges involved],” he told Gauteng Judge President Bernard Ngoepe and advocates Marumo Moerane and Ishmael Semenya, who were running the inquiry.
Asked whether Hlophe knew about this practice, he said Hlophe had not sat on the Supreme Court of Appeal or the Constitutional Court before, “so he might not know about it”.
He said he didn’t find the conduct sufficient to merit a complaint and only raised it after hearing about a similar experience by Nkabinde.
He said he would not want to make the inference that Hlophe had tried to influence him.
“One can only work on an inference. I would really not know what intention he had. One has to look at the facts of the discussion and draw an inference.”—Sapa