President Cyril Ramaphosa has named acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, supreme court of appeal president Mandisa Maya, constitutional court justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga and Gauteng judge president Duntan Mambo as the shortlisted candidates in the running to become the country’s next chief justice.
The presidency said late on Wednesday that Ramaphosa had submitted their names to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the leaders of political parties represented in parliament for consideration.
The shortlist was released 36 days after the retirement of Mogoeng Mogoeng as head of the judiciary, and almost three weeks after the president was originally scheduled to make it public.
In late October, Ramaphosa’s office released a statement saying he was still applying his mind to a report from the selection panel, headed by Judge Navi Pillay, assisting him with weighing public nominations for the post.
It confirmed that embattled public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane had asked that her nomination be withdrawn.
The initial long list, released on October 5, had also included the names of Western Cape judge president John Hlophe and advocate Alan Nelson. Hlophe was considered as unlikely a contender as Mkhwebane, who is facing perjury charges.
Hlophe is fighting impeachment for gross misconduct after the JSC held that he attempted to influence two constitutional court justices to rule in favour of former president Jacob Zuma in a matter relating to the arms deal corruption case.
Zondo, Maya, Madlanga and Mambo have long been considered the most obvious candidates to succeed Mogoeng, and all have their fervent supporters in the legal community.
As the chairman of the state capture inquiry, Zondo is the best known but the highly public role may have made a risky choice for Ramaphosa. It is inevitable that his final report will finger political foes of Ramaphosa and commentators say this may invite accusations, however unfounded, that the president was rewarding an ally.
Mlambo and Maya are both considered excellent administrators, and this skill is much needed at the apex court after standards have slid in recent years. But Madlanga is perhaps the jurist’s favourite among the four, seen as an intellectual who could restore a sense of cohesive rigour to the court.
Ramaphosa is expected to name the new chief justice next month, bar further delays.
He is not bound by the input of either the JSC or the leaders of opposition parties when he makes a final choice, and it is not clear if he will eventually make the report of the selection panel public.