President Jacob Zuma breached the Constitution by extending the term of office for Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo beyond the 12-year limit, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said on Sunday.
The 12-year limit is set out in the Constitution, the party’s MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini said in a statement.
“If [media reports are] correct, the president acted unconstitutionally as only an act of Parliament may effect such an extension, not the president purporting to act in terms of an act of Parliament,” he said.
“The fixed term of a constitutional justice is a guarantee of his independence, which lies in the knowledge that under no condition may he receive favour from the government.”
Oriani-Ambrosini said if media reports were true then it highlighted a major constitutional breach or blunder by the Presidency.
Business Day reported on Monday that the Centre for Applied Legal Studies at the University of Witwatersrand was planning a legal challenge to Ngcobo’s extension.
The centre said section 8(a) of the Judges’ Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act — used by Zuma to extend Ngcobo’s terms of office — was “unconstitutional and invalid”, reported the paper.
Business Day said the centre’s director, Professor Raylene Keightley, had written to Zuma and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, saying if Ngcobo’s term of office was extended, the centre intended challenging the section in court to declare it unconstitutional.
Zuma disclosed on Friday that Ngcobo would continue to serve as South Africa’s chief judge for the next five years.
Zuma said that on August 15 this year, Ngcobo would have held office as a judge and Constitutional Court judge for a cumulative period of 15 years and three months.
“Acting in terms of … the Judges Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act … I requested Chief Justice Ngcobo to continue to perform active service as the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, with effect from August 16 [this year] until August 15 2016,” he said.
“He has agreed to my request.”
Ngcobo, who turned 58 in March this year, was appointed as a judge in the Constitutional Court by former president Nelson Mandela in 1999.
He holds a Master of Law (LLM) degree from Harvard Law School. – Sapa