Zondo named chief justice

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as the country’s new chief justice, tearing up a recommendation from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that he name Judge Mandisa Maya as the next head of the judiciary.

Ramaphosa said he has decided to nominate Maya, the president of the Supreme Court of Appeal, to become the next deputy chief justice.

“President Cyril Ramaphosa has, in accordance with section 174(3) of the Constitution,

decided to appoint Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as the next chief justice of the

Republic of South Africa, with effect from 1 April 2022,” the presidency said in a statement on Thursday.

“With Zondo assuming the position of chief Justice, the position of deputy chief

Justice will become vacant. 

“Ramaphosa has accordingly indicated his intention,once the new chief justice assumes office, to nominate Justice Mandisa Maya for the position of deputy chief justice.”

The announcement of Zondo’s appointment comes 149 days after the retirement of Mogoeng Mogoeng from the post.

Alison Tilley, the co-ordinator of Judges Matter, said Zondo was a safe pair of hands.

“His term will be short, but he will bring gravitas and experience to the position,” she added.

Zondo will serve in the post for some two-and-half years, because he is due to retire in August 2024. 

There were analysts who cautioned that his chairing of the commission of inquiry into state capture for the past four years may make him a complex choice.

The danger was, they said, that Zondo may — unfairly so — be regarded by the president’s political foes as being rewarded for the findings that he is delivering on those implicated in the looting of the state.

In his interview with the JSC for the position, Zondo was asked about objections to his candidacy and stated emphatically: “I am not pro anybody, I am not anti anybody.”

He added that if, on the evidence, he needed to make findings against Ramaphosa himself in the final instalments of his report on state capture, he would do so without fear that this may harm his prospects of being named by the president as chief justice.

If that cost him the job, he said: “That is fine.”

Zondo is yet to deliver a fourth instalment of his findings on the state capture scandal. In the third, he recommended that minerals and energy minister and chairman of the governing ANC, Gwede Mantashe, be investigated for corruption.

Ramaphosa last month openly said the JSC had exceeded its mandate by firmly recommending a single candidate rather than simply reporting to him on the relative strengths of each of the four who were shortlisted for the post.

He stressed then that the decision remained his prerogative, but bringing Maya onto the apex court as deputy chief justice will appease the commission.

In government circles, the JSC’s handling of the matter was seen as a political ambush of the president, who had taken the unusual step of inviting public nominations and shortlisting several candidates in an attempt to bring more transparency to the process.

Also in the running were respected Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo, who had the support of the justice ministry, and Zondo’s constitutional court colleague Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga, considered the most intellectual of the four candidates.

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