Few surprises in JSC's picks for judicial vacancies

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) raised a few eyebrows at Constitutional Hill in Johannesburg on Tuesday, when it announced its recommendations to President Jacob Zuma on who should fill positions on various benches.

The biggest surprise was the deputy judge president vacancy that remains in the KwaZulu-Natal division, after the JSC decided to not recommend either of the two candidates who were considered, Mjabuliseni Madondo or Fikile Mokgohloa. The position will be re-advertised.

JSC spokesperson, Carel “CP” Fourie, said that neither of the candidates had managed to get an outright majority from the commissioners. According to JSC procedure, a candidate must garner 50% plus one vote to be nominated to the president.

The JSC usually sits with 23 commissioners, a number that increases to 25 when deliberations on appointments to a provincial division are held. The expanded commission includes the provincial judge president and the premier of the province.

Commissioner Andiswa Ndoni did not participate in last week’s interviews in Cape Town, suggesting that the voting was deadlocked at 12-12.

Mokgohloa, a well-respected jurist, was considered a favourite of those looking to push the gender transformation agenda in the judiciary, while Madondo was favoured by the ANC-led political establishment in KwaZulu-Natal.

There were no surprises in the recommendation of judges to the Supreme Court of Appeal with the names of Eastern Cape judges Xola Petse and Ronnie Pillay going through to the president’s office.

In a decision that is likely to send ripples through the legal fraternity—but evoke little surprise—Labour Court judge president Dunstan Mlambo was recommended to head the North and South Gauteng divisions over current South Gauteng deputy judge president, Phineas Mojapelo.

Mojapelo was given an especially difficult time by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe during his two-and-a-half-hour interview on Thursday last week, when he was grilled over a 2009 Sunday Times article about the JSC failing to follow its own procedure in attempting to fill the position of chief justice.

Although Mojapelo’s article was written in reference to the appointment of previous chief justice, Sandile Ngcobo, it was published before current chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s appointment, which followed in similar vein, with Zuma announcing his preferred candidate before the JSC opened up the process to public participation.

Mlambo is a well-respected jurist and administrator, who has managed to turn around the Labour Court in the two years he has been in charge. He will take over the reins in Gauteng in November, following the imminent retirement of incumbent Bernard Ngoepe.

The single vacancy for the Eastern Cape High Court vacancy in Bhisho was filled by another apparent favourite, Duncan Dukada, while Bulelwa Pakati was recommended for the Northern Cape High Court position.

The JSC had advertised six vacancies in the North and South Gauteng division, but only shortlisted five candidates. Of those interviewed, Elizabeth Kubushi and advocates Selby Baqwa and Bashier Vally were recommended.

The JSC said that it “remains concerned about the number of competent and appropriately qualified candidates who are not making themselves available to be considered for appointment to the bench”.

In recent months, not enough candidates have made themselves available to fill vacant positions, including those in Gauteng and one on the Constitutional Court bench, which has been advertised twice already.

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi

Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist.His areas of interest include social justice; citizen mobilisation and state violence; protest; the constitution and the constitutional court and football. Read more from Niren Tolsi

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