Ngcobo 'showed no fear, favour or prejudice'

There was a sense of excitement in going into the next stage of his life, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo said at his farewell ceremony at the Constitutional Court on Thursday.

“As I don this beautiful robe for the last day I look back at my years and I am filled with excitement with what lies ahead for myself, my family and the country.”

Ngcobo equated the feeling with the one he felt “at the dawn of the new democracy”.

During his farewell speech Ngcobo said judicial powers should be exercised with humility and respect.

“The powers we exercise are far reaching but we must operate with humility, ensuring that other branches of government play by the rules while at the same time offering them adequate space to perform their duties,” Ngcobo said.

He reflected on the role the Constitutional Court played in South Africa’s democracy, saying its goals were to heal past divisions, lay the foundation for a democratic and open society, improve the quality of all citizens lives and build a united, democratic society.

“I will continue to watch the country flourish because of this court room.”

He recalled how as a young boy he had gone with his father to court, which was held under a tree.

“It is fitting that my career ends under the tree depicted on the door of the Constitutional Court.

‘From chief justice to pensioner’
“I am going from chief justice to pensioner,” Ngcobo said chuckling.

The Constitutional Court paid tribute to Ngcobo on Thursday after he handed down his last judgment.

Former chief justices Pius Langa and Arthur Chaskalson attended the ceremony, as well as former Constitutional Court judges Albie Sachs and Richard Goldstone, and human rights advocate George Bizos.

Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe and his deputy Andries Nel were also in attendance.

Ngcobo thanked his family for their support as well as staff at the Constitutional Court and other courts he had served at during his career.

Ngcobo was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 1999 by former president Nelson Mandela. Prior to this he was a judge in the Cape High Court and the Labour Appeal Court.

On August 6 2009 President Jacob Zuma nominated Ngcobo to succeed Langa as the country’s Chief Justice.

In July Zuma extended Ngcobo’s term of office for five years, but after controversy over the decision Ngcobo declined the offer.

Zuma is currently in Burundi on a state visit.

Radebe, during his tribute, said Ngcobo had served the judiciary with excellence and dedication.

“He always passed judgment with an independent mind ... [He] demonstrated the balance between personal values and the law. He showed no fear, favour or prejudice.”

He said he was glad Ngcobo had run the full course of his career and said Ngcobo would continue to offer his services to the cause of justice.

Tributes to Ngcobo were also given on behalf of the Law Society of South Africa and the General Council of the Bar.

Law Society co-president Nano Matlala said Ngcobo had enhanced the judiciary’s independence. He said Ngcobo had set a good example when he was able to admit his mistakes.

“The act you have taken is rare in South Africa, that when people make mistakes they own up to it.”

Ngcobo had the vision of an ideal justice system, the Bar Council’s Gerrit Pretorius said during his tribute.

“[He] was fair to all litigants ... delivered results and responded to all needs.

“You were an effective leader,” Pretorius said.

Ngcobo said he was deeply moved by all the tributes.

“I hope there is much left to say at my funeral,” he said.

Ngcobo rules on Limpopo finance
In his final judgment, Ngcobo said the Limpopo government could not pass its own financial laws.

Limpopo Premier Cassel Mathale had declined to assent to and sign the Financial Management of the Limpopo Provincial Legislature Act.

Ngcobo contended that the legislature did not have constitutional power to pass provincial legislation dealing with financial management matters.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, the chairperson of the National Council of Provinces and the minister of finance supported the premier.

However, the speaker of the Limpopo provincial legislature argued that section three of the Financial Management of Parliament Act 10 of 2009 read with schedule one to that act, expressly assigned to the provinces the power to pass legislation dealing with financial management matters.

Ngcobo said Mathale’s reservations were justified.

The Constitution allowed provincial legislatures to pass legislation only with regard to certain functions or if it was assigned by national legislation.

He said that while the legislative powers of the provinces were enumerated and clearly defined, those of Parliament were not.

Provincial legislatures were not allowed to pass the Bill.

Legislation similar to the bill had been passed by provincial legislatures in the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the North West.

The Constitutional Court ordered the speakers and Members of the Executive Council responsible for financial matters in each province to become part of the case.

The Constitutional Court would hear argument on November 8 on why the legislation in the other provinces should not be declared unconstitutional, Ngcobo said in his judgment.

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer

Nickolaus Bauer is the Mail & Guardian's jack of all trades news reporter that chases down stories ranging from politics and sports to big business and social justice. Armed with an iPad, SLR camera, camcorder and dictaphone, he aims to fight ignorance and pessimism through written words, photographs and videos. He believes South Africa could be the greatest country in the world if only her citizens would give her a chance to flourish instead of dwell on the negativity. When he's not begging his sub-editors for an extra twenty minutes after deadline, he's also known to dabble in the occasional poignant column that will leave you mulling around in the depths of your psyche. The quintessential workaholic, you can also catch him doing sports on the weekday breakfast show on SAfm and presenting the SAfm Sports Special over the weekend.
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