President Cyril Ramaphosa has made his first appointments to South Africa’s highest court. Justices Zukisa Tshiqi and Steven Majiedt — both currently at the Supreme Court of Appeal — will begin at the Constitutional Court on October 1.
Ramaphosa’s choices were expected, with Tshiqi and Majiedt being the two most senior of the judges interviewed and short-listed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in April.
The other candidates put forward by the JSC were Gauteng high court judges Annali Basson and Jody Kollapen and Western Cape high court deputy judge president Patricia Goliath. After the JSC made its shortlist of five for the president to choose from, Majiedt and Tshiqi were widely considered as the front-runners, although Kollapen was also a popular candidate.
The appointments mean that there are now ten permanent judges on the Constitutional Court — a welcome development as the number of acting judges at the highest court in recent times had been raising eyebrows. However, since the last round of JSC interviews, there is already another vacancy to fill with the recent retirement of Justice Edwin Cameron.
With these two appointments under his belt, and another to come shortly, Ramaphosa will be able to put his stamp on the highest court — more so over the next two years because Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and Justices Chris Jafta, Sisi Khampepe and Johan Froneman are due to retire.
Prior to these appointments, and with Cameron’s retirement, the whole Constitutional Court bench was made up of people appointed by former president Jacob Zuma. Cameron was the last justice appointed before Zuma’s presidency — by Kgalema Motlanthe during his brief tenure as caretaker president.
Tshiqi was appointed to the Johannesburg High Court in 2005 after practicing as an attorney, mostly specialising in labour law, although she also had a busy commercial practice. After acting at the Supreme Court of Appeal, she was quickly elevated to a permanent post in 2009, making her the third African woman judge appointed to the appeal court. She acted at the Constitutional Court for over six months in 2014 and 2015.
This was the second time she had made herself available for the Constitutional Court, facing a difficult interview in 2015 after comments from national advocates’ body, the General Council of the Bar, criticised her — including for having penned fewer judgments than expected for someone with her number of years on the bench. She responded, saying that the criticism was factually incorrect, but that when she sought to obtain copies of her judgments from the high court, she was unable to do so because of the state of the archive at the Johannesburg court.
Majiedt began his legal career as an advocate, practicing at the Cape Bar from 1984. A founding member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Majeidt was mentored by South Africa’s first justice minister Dullah Omar. In 1995, he left practice to work as adviser to the Northern Cape’s first premier Manne Dipico. He went back to practice as an advocate in 2000, but it was less than a year before he was appointed as a judge in the Northern Cape high court.
He was elevated to the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2010 and acted at the Constitutional Court for four months in 2014. In that time he penned what has become an internationally celebrated judgment on South Africa’s obligations under international law.
The Mail & Guardian will be running two in-depth profiles on the new appointments in the September 13 to 20 2019 edition.