/ 8 May 2023

Zuma’s demand that chief justice Raymond Zondo be axed is ‘laughable’

Jacob Zuma court
Former South African President Jacob Zuma. File photo by GIANLUIGI GUERCIA / AFP

Former president Jacob Zuma’s demand that President Cyril Ramaphosa should reverse the decision to appoint Judge Raymond Zondo as chief justice is “laughable”, according to legal expert Llewelyn Curlewis.

“It’s a bizarre and unreasonable demand. It’s impossible to meet,” he said.

In April last year Ramaphosa appointed Zondo to the top position after interviews by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). At the time of his appointment, Zondo was the deputy chief justice.

Ramaphosa appointed Zondo despite a recommendation by the JSC that the then supreme court of appeal judge president, Mandisa Maya, was the most suitable person for the chief justice post.

Zuma said Ramaphosa had no legal grounds to deviate from the JSC’s recommendation.

“Our client has instructed us to demand, as we hereby do, that you reverse your illegal decision(s) to appoint Zondo as chief justice and to ignore or overlook the recommendations of the JSC,” said Zuma’s lawyers in a legal letter to Ramaphosa.

“Such conduct was clearly in violation of your constitutional obligations conferred in terms of section 178, read with section 83 of the Constitution,” continued the letter, which gave Ramaphosa until Thursday to fire Zondo. 

Curlewis said there was nothing in law compelling Ramaphosa to implement the JSC’s recommendations. “It’s just a recommendation.” 

As chairperson of the state capture commission, Zondo made an application to the constitutional court for Zuma to be convicted for his refusal to appear before the commission.

The concourt, which convicted Zuma, subsequently handed Zuma a 15-month prison sentence.

In his letter to Ramaphosa, Zuma maintained that Zondo should not have reported him to the concourt because the chief justice was the one at fault, given that he had ignored Zuma’s request to recuse himself as the commission’s chairperson.

“Among several other disqualifying factors is the fact that Zondo had at the time and still does continue to ignore an application brought by Zuma against his non-recusal from sitting as chairperson of the so-called state capture commission in respect of his appearance and/or participation in those proceedings and based on, inter alia, the previous relationships and other dealings between Zondo and Zuma.”

Curlewis said the recusal matter was no longer relevant because the commission had concluded its hearings. Zondo’s appointment had already been made, and Ramaphosa would violate the Labour Relations Act if he were to reverse the appointment.

“The president will not waste any of his time considering such illogical demands,” presidential spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya said.