Zuma appears to have avoided potential conflict within the KwaZulu-Natal judiciary when he announced Judge Achmat Jappie as the new deputy-judge president of that division on Thursday afternoon.
Jappie was vying for the position with the controversial Mjabuliseni Madondo, also a judge in that division. Madondo was considered the favoured choice among the political establishment in the province.
Madondo raised eyebrows in an earlier judicial service commission interview for the Kwa-Zulu Natal judge president position in 2011 when he had stated that the judge president of the KwaZulu-Natal division should be an ethnic Zulu, as that part of the population was the majority in the province; and that the judge president would have to interact in his official duties with political leadership of the same ethnic group.
During the 2011 interview, when Madondo was contesting the judge president position of the Kwa-Zulu Natal division with current incumbent Chiman Patel, he had been asked by Inkatha Freedom Party JSC member Koos van der Merwe if the time was not ripe to appoint an "Indian" as a KwaZulu-Natal judge president.
To which Madondo responded: "I don't think so. We still have things to address – imbalances, all kinds of things, which need more insight, which a person who is not [a black] African cannot be privy to."
During last year's interview, in which Patel was present as a commissioner because of his position as Kwa-Zulu Natal judge president, the tension between the two was palpable and legal practitioners in the province say Jappie's appointment will ensure the smooth running of the division.
Jappie is the longest-serving judge in the division.
Zuma also announced the further appointment of 12 judges to the various divisions of the high court. The appointments are effective from February 15.
There were few surprises in the appointments to the Western Cape bench, which included Judith Cloete and Babalwa Mantame. Highly respected advocates Owen Rogers SC and Ashton Schippers SC were also appointed along with Mokgoatji Dolamo.
Judge Basheer Waglay, who was the only candidate interviewed for the position of judge president of the labour courts in the round of judicial service commission interviews held in October last year, was duly appointed.
Dimpheletse Moshidi and Willem Wepener were appointed judges of the electoral court, while the presidency announced that attorney Buyiswa Majiki and advocate Murray Lowe SC had been appointed to the Eastern Cape High Courts in Mthatha and Port Elizabeth respectively.
Advocate David Fourie SC, who admitted during last year's interview that he had once been a member of the right-wing Broederbond, was appointed as a judge of the North and South Gauteng High Courts.
During his interview, Fourie had expressed regret for his participation in the organisation, saying: "I made a terrible mistake in my past, and I am haunted until this day. I am sorry."
Rajesh Choudree, chairperson of Advocates for Transformation, said he welcomed the appointment as Jappie is a "highly respected jurist" but questioned why it took the president so long to make a "routine appointment".
Said Choudree: "One does wonder if there was a political attempt to influence the president's decision since he took so long to make what is – unlike the Constitutional Court – a routine appointment."
In a statement released to the press, Zuma said: "I wish to congratulate the new appointees and wish them well in the discharge of their mandate of giving full expression to the letter and ethos of our Constitution, as we strive together to create a democratic society where the rights of all persons are respected and protected."