Racial diversification of judiciary on track, says Zille

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille on Friday accused the African National Congress of using the transformation of the judiciary as a smokescreen for creating a bench that will serve the ruling party’s agenda.

Zille said since 55% of judges were black, racial diversification of the judiciary was on track.

There was therefore no need to take unprecedented steps to hasten transformation as Justice Minister Jeff Radebe did when he delayed the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) interviews for judicial appointments this week.

“Racial diversification of the bench is proceeding apace. Ironically, though, the ANC is driving its ‘transformation’ agenda harder than ever before,” she wrote in her weekly newsletter.

“The reason, again, is that the ANC is not actually arguing for a more racially diverse bench.

“It wants a bench that is subservient to the racial ideology, policies and political control of the party-state.”

Zille described Radebe’s intervention as “a cynical attempt by the ANC to influence the appointment of judges”.

“If the executive is allowed to interfere directly in the process of shortlisting candidates for the bench and in the systems and structures of the JSC, the very purpose of an independent judiciary is undermined.”

Zille said the party’s true intentions were evident when it rebuked Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke for reportedly saying: “It’s not what the ANC wants or what the delegates [to Polokwane] want; it is about what is good for our people.”

If the ANC had its way, she said, it would handpick its judges like the old National Party did, “rendering the most important safeguard of our rights subject to political manipulation by the ruling party”.

President Jacob Zuma on Tuesday attempted, in his reply to the debate on his State of the Nation address, to quell concerns that the state was seeking to undermine the independence of the judiciary .

Zuma, who escaped corruption charges because of alleged political meddling in his case, told MPs that the bench needed to reflect the demographics of South Africa, but that transformation was also about an accessible court system served by judges steeped in the values of the Constitution.

JSC interviews
Meanwhile, the JSC will conduct interviews for new judges next month after the process was delayed earlier this week, its spokesperson said on Friday.

“The new dates for the interviews are 19, 20 and 21 July,” said Marumo Moerane.

At this stage, the same number of candidates will be interviewed.

“But some names might be added later,” Moerane said.

The JSC put all interviews for new judges on hold on Monday after Radebe requested time to consider the independence and transformation of the judiciary.

The JSC was supposed to have started a five-day schedule of interviews in Cape Town on Monday for four candidates for the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Radebe had requested a postponement to consider “the enhancement of the independence of the judiciary and the vital question of the transformation of the judiciary in terms of the Constitution with regard to race and gender representivity in order to facilitate meaningful input into the appointment process”, said a JSC statement on Monday.

Also, according to the statement, the JSC felt the eight new members appointed to its ranks by Parliament on May 26 were not yet familiar with the body’s procedures and had not had enough time to prepare for the meeting.

The JSC used the rest of the past week to deal with other items on its agenda, including the complaint against Cape Judge President John Hlophe.

Moerane said on Friday the JSC would be “starting afresh” on the Hlophe matter.

“But we don’t have a date yet,” he said.

On May 30 last year, the judges of the Constitutional Court lodged a complaint with the JSC alleging that Hlophe had tried to influence a judgment relating to President Jacob Zuma.

Last week, the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg ruled that the JSC violated Hlophe’s rights by going ahead with the misconduct hearings against him while he was sick.—Sapa

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