Mandisa Maya is one of four candidates, all of whom enjoy the respect of the legal community. (Photo by Simphiwe Nkwali/Sunday Times/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Saturday recommended that President Cyril Ramaphosa appoint Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya as South Africa’s next chief justice after four fraught days of interviews with four shortlisted candidates clouded by political context.
The announcement came during a media briefing late on Saturday afternoon, following hours of closed-door deliberations by the commission.
JSC spokesperson Advocate Dali Mpofu said: “After much deliberation the JSC has come to the decision to recommend that the president appoints the president of the Supreme Court of Appeal, Justice Mandisa Maya to be the next chief justice of South Africa.”
He added that the commission’s task was complicated – and the deliberations protracted – by the fact that all four candidates were of a high quality, as well as the uniqueness of the process Ramaphosa has elected to employ to select a successor to Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Mpofu stressed that this was the first time that the president had nominated more than one candidate to be interviewed by the JSC for the post and that he was not bound by the recommendation emanating from this week’s interviews.
It remains Ramaphosa’s sole, presidential prerogative in terms of the constitution, to appoint the head of the judiciary, Mpofu said when asked whether there would be any consequence should Ramaphosa choose to select one of the other candidates for appointment.
“There are no consequences. The Constitution is very clear that the Judicial Service Commission is making a recommendation, or to put it in the words of the Constitution, that the president, after consulting, the JSC makes the appointment. What is notable is that we are not even the only body that he consults,” he said, adding that Ramaphosa will now as required consult with leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly.
However, jurists said, it will now be difficult for Ramaphosa to deviate from the recommendation.
Firstly, Maya would be the country’s first female chief justice, and a fine point was put on this both by members of the commission and herself during her interview on Wednesday. Secondly, she is reliably understood to enjoy the support of key constituencies within the ANC.
She is one of four candidates, all of whom enjoy the respect of the legal community – constitutional court justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo and Gauteng’s able judge president Dunstan Mlambo.
Madlanga is regarded as the intellectual leader of the constitutional court, but suffered for being less prominent than the others and being required by statute to retire in three and a half years.
When it came to Zondo and Mlambo, politics arguably won the day. Mlambo had to endure the procedurally unacceptable indignity of being confronted with unsubstantiated allegations of sexual harassment. He memorably termed these “gossip” designed to sink his candidacy.
On Friday, Zondo suffered a barrage of insinuations that he had used his position as chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture to curry favour with Ramaphosa and persecute former president Jacob Zuma. He denied these with customary dignity. However, his interview descended into a shouting match between Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema and Justice Minister Roland Lamola.
Malema insinuated that Lamola had unlawfully instructed Zondo to grant Mlambo an acting stint at the constitutional court to boost his candidacy. The allegation was plainly designed to taint both Zondo and Mlambo. Lamola termed it a “blue-faced” lie and issued a media statement on the matter on Saturday.
“As and when vacancies arise in the above courts, the constitution dictates that such vacancies should be filled by the president and the minister respectively subject to particular process,” Lamola said, after quoting section 175 (2) of the Constitution.
“It is within the context that consultations occur between the chief justice and/or the judge presidents of the superior courts with the minister.”