Transformation of the judiciary was again high on the agenda of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) as it began a marathon sitting in Cape Town on Monday.
As interviews for 30 vacancies got under way, Port Elizabeth senior counsel Glenn Goosen was repeatedly asked why he, as a white male, should get a high court appointment in the Eastern Cape.
Goosen, a former student activist and prominent figure in the United Democratic Front, said he supported the “crucial necessity” for transformation of the judiciary.
He was acutely aware of the need to address demographic and gender imbalances on the bench.
However, it was also critical that commitment to and endorsement of constitutional values inform and motivate the process of achieving a fully transformed bench.
The “broader requirement” in transforming the judiciary was to seek to achieve the commitment of all judicial officers to the underlying values of the Constitution.
He hoped the commission would hold the view that he could make a contribution in that direction.
Gender, racial imbalance
Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza said that of the 15 judges on the benches of the Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown courts, 10 were white, of whom nine were male.
Ntsebeza, a former colleague of Goosen’s on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said section 174 of the Constitution specifically enjoined the JSC to consider the need for the judiciary to broadly reflect the racial and gender composition of South Africa.
Though the racial makeup of the Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth courts was not Goosen’s fault, and no one doubted his competence, the disproportion of white and black was “quite disturbing”, he said.
“I can’t deal [with that] other than on the basis that my contribution must come from a different basis,” Goosen replied.
“I’m aware of the limitations that current circumstances impose.”
“It was a difficult question and it was meant to be,” replied Ntsebeza. “But it’s difficult also for us.”
Responding to a question from commissioner and fellow East Cape advocate Izak Smuts, Goosen said three of the nine white male judges on Ntsebeza’s list had in fact retired, and two more had been appointed to the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Courts.
It was those vacancies the JSC was now trying to fill, Goosen said.
Ntsebeza told another candidate, struggle attorney John Smith, that if he was appointed he would be the only coloured judge, male or female, in Grahamstown or Port Elizabeth.
Smith acknowledged that was correct, and that it was an important consideration.
However he hoped that if he was appointed it would be on the basis of his track record and competence.
Judges being poached
The problem in the Eastern Cape, he said, was that it kept producing fine judges who then got “stolen” by courts elsewhere in the country.
The commission is conducting interviews, scheduled to last to April 20, for 30 vacancies in courts across the country.
Goosen was one of nine candidates interviewed on Monday for five vacancies in the Eastern Cape division, which includes the Mthatha High Court. — Sapa