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Zuma looks to Ngcobo as new chief justice

President Jacob Zuma has nominated Constitutional Court Judge Sandile Ngcobo to replace Judge Pius Langa, who retires from the position of chief justice later this year.

Explaining his choice, Zuma said he had taken the decision “properly” and “objectively”.

“Ngcobo has more experience in that court [than Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke]. He has been there for a long time. He has very serious credentials in terms of his experience.

“The fact of the matter is that I have appointed a judge that I believe is capable,” said Zuma.

The African National Congress congratulated Ngcobo on his nomination, saying he had a solid human rights track record.

“His career as a lawyer was spent defending the most vulnerable people in our country,” the party said in a statement.

“His long and distinguished service as a justice of the Supreme Court brings with it the experience and the fortitude our country needs to assure that the judiciary remains an independent arbiter for every citizen.”

The ANC thanked Langa for the “dignified and diligent” manner in which he had led the Constitutional Court.

“We wish him a well-deserved retirement.”

The Mail & Guardian reported last month that Ngcobo had become a firm favourite in the race to replace Langa as chief justice.

“Ever since the ANC launched a series of attacks on Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who was previously seen as Langa’s likely successor, judges and legal commentators have privately suggested that Ngcobo is the most credible of the candidates who are politically palatable to President Jacob Zuma and the ANC,” the report states.

Ngcobo, a Fulbright scholar, was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1999. The Judicial Service Commission had recommended then-Johannesburg High Court Judge Edwin Cameron, but Ngcobo controversially landed the job ­­ after the intervention of then-deputy president Thabo Mbeki.

Ngcobo was born in Durban in 1953 and completed his undergraduate BProc studies in 1975, obtaining distinctions in constitutional law, mercantile law and accounting.

He was admitted as an attorney six years later, after stints as a clerk and public prosecutor.

He spent a year in detention during the 1976 uprisings.

Between 1978 and 1982 Ngcobo worked for a law firm owned by Supreme Court of Appeal judge and electoral court head KK Mthiyane and later joined the Legal Resources Centre in Durban.

He has studied and practised in the United States, completing a certificate programme on the US legal system at Georgetown University in 1985, the same year he completed an LLB at the then-University of Natal. The following year he undertook an LLM at Harvard University.

Admitted as an advocate in 1988, he practised in both South Africa and the US until 1992.

The following year he served as a judge on the KwaZulu-Natal Industrial Court.

At the advent of South Africa’s democracy, Ngcobo served on the newly constituted Independent Electoral Commission. He later took his first permanent position on the Bench in the Cape Provincial Division in 1996, also serving in the labour court as acting judge president.

In addition, Ngcobo has lectured part-time at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

He is married to Zandile. They have a daughter, Nokwanda, and two sons, Ayanda and Manqoba.

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