/ 25 July 2022

Ramaphosa appoints Mandisa Maya as deputy chief justice

Close Up With Supreme Court Of Appeal Head Mandisa Maya
Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya. (Gallo Images / The Times / Simphiwe Nkwali)

President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday named supreme court of appeal (SCA) president Mandisa Maya as the new deputy chief justice with effect from 1 September.

It is the first time a female judge has been appointed to the position and, should the line of succession hold, as it did when Justice Raymond Zondo was promoted to chief justice in April, she will become the next chief justice when he retires in August 2024.

Maya was one of four candidates for the position of chief justice, and the choice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), who recommended her over Zondo and justices Mbuyiseli Madlanga and Dunstan Mlambo after a series of often fraught interviews in February.

Ramaphosa chose to appoint Zondo as the new chief justice after letting it be known that he felt the JSC had exceeded its mandate by pinpointing a candidate for appointment, rather than advising him of the relative merits of each of the four.

He then indicated that he intended nominating her for the position of deputy. 

This may have, at least partly, been a compromise to quell criticism that he had shunned a meritorious female candidate.

“Justice Maya will contribute to the ongoing transformation process of the judiciary,” the presidency said on Monday.

“Her ascendancy to the apex court will serve as a beacon of hope for scores of young women and make them believe that South Africa is a country of possibilities regardless of gender, social and economic circumstances.”

Maya has been president of the SCA since 2017 and was the first woman to hold that position.

She was interviewed by the JSC on June 20 and recommended for appointment by a majority vote. Three commissioners opposed her appointment.

Maya holds the distinction of having written two judgments in isiXhosa. In her interview last month, she was questioned about choosing to write in the case of AfriForum vs Unisa in 2020 in her mother tongue when the case involved the university’s decision to remove Afrikaans as a language of instruction.

She replied to North West Judge President Monica Leeuw that she did so to signal respect for all cultural identity. The ruling held that Unisa’s position was unconstitutional.

At another point in the interview, Maya refused to take responsibility for administrative hiccups at the SCA that meant the court did not hear the appeal against the high court ruling ordering former president Jacob Zuma’s return to prison to serve out the remainder of his sentence for contempt in the first two terms. Instead, she placed all blame on the former chief registrar at the court.

The appeal will now be heard next month. 

In her February interview with the JSC, she floated the idea of collapsing the SCA into the constitutional court to streamline the functioning of the judiciary and suggested special courts should be set up to hear state capture cases. On this score, she challenged Justice Minister Ronald Lamola about the allocation of resources to the judiciary.

She also proposed to change the way the court worked to speed up the delivery of rulings.

The role and responsibilities of the deputy chief justice has broadened in the past decade. It is expected that Maya will be asked to chair the Judicial Conduct Committee. Her appointment comes at a time of sustained political attack on the judiciary, as the KwaZulu-Natal conference of the ANC at the weekend again showed, and she will be expected to support Zondo in defending its independence in the face of such.