/ 27 February 2024

Ramaphosa nominates Mandisa Maya for 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 Tuesday announced that he has nominated Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya for the position of chief justice, making it all but certain that she will become the country’s first female head of the apex court and the judiciary.

In a statement, the presidency said Ramaphosa has invited leaders of political parties represented in parliament to make submissions on Maya’s suitability for the position. 

“The president has drawn the attention of leaders of political parties to Judge Maya’s illustrious judicial career, in which she was first appointed as a judge of the Eastern Cape division of the high court in 2000,” his office added.

The announcement comes months ahead of the retirement of Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in August, and suggests a desire to break with a recent history of delay in filling the post.

The country was without a chief justice for more than four months after the retirement of Mogoeng Mogoeng in October 2021.

The presidency said on Tuesday that Ramaphosa had acted in the interest of continuity and stability at the country’s highest court by initiating the process at this point.

The fact that the country is heading for national elections in May, which will entail changes to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) regarding those members drawn from the ranks of parliament, may have played a role in the president’s decision not to waste time.

The announcement also indicates that the president will not repeat the exceptional process he followed the last time around when he asked a panel headed by Judge Navi Pillay to invite and vet nominations for the position.

That process resulted in a shortlist of four candidates who were interviewed by the JSC 

but Ramaphosa later ventured on the record that it had exceeded its remit by pinpointing Maya for appointment rather than commenting on the relative merits of each of the candidates.

These were Zondo, Maya, Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo and constitutional court Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga. Ramaphosa went against the JSC’s recommendations to name Zondo, but then immediately nominated Maya to be his deputy.

Mbekezeli Benjamin, a research officer for Judges Matter, said Maya’s appointment would be historic, “coming as it does 30 years into South Africa’s democracy”.

He added: “Reverting to a closed process of only one candidate is not surprising, although we would have the open, competitive process would be retained as the best practice for these kinds of appointments.”

Benjamin credited Maya as “working quietly in the background in reforming the JSC, a key accountability mechanism in the judiciary” since becoming deputy chief justice.

“Thanks to her, we might finally receive an official report on the Judicial Conduct Committee’s activities, despite this being a legal requirement for more than a decade.”

Maya was president of the supreme court of appeal from 2017 until her appointment as deputy chief justice in July 2022. She was the first woman to hold that position.