Gender takes centre stage at CJ interviews

Interviews to select the head of SA’s courts kicked off on Tuesday in Sandton. The critical position of Chief Justice has been vacant for months after controversial former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng left the post early. 

The Judicial Service Commission, made up of 23 commissioners (many of them politicians), takes charge of these all-important interviews. As we’ve pointed out before, the body has its issues.😏 Last year it was forced to re-run interviews for Constitutional Court Justices after Julius Malema and Mogoeng questioned Judge Dhaya Pillay’s suitability for the position because of her friendship with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan. Two candidates were bizarrely grilled by Malema and Advocate Dali Mpofu about their suitability as white men. 

This time the issue of gender was front and centre. Judge President of the Supreme Court of Appeal President Mandisa Maya is the first woman shortlisted as Chief Justice and a firm favourite. ✊🏽 She’s an admirable candidate, but the fact of her gender led to some strange questions from the commissioners. 

Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, the Speaker of Parliament, asked another candidate, Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga, if SA was ready for a female head of the Judiciary. Madlanga, a man, was visibly frustrated with this question; he answered: “I believe that Justice Maya is a competent candidate for the position of Chief Justice much like any of the male candidates.” Malema pressed him for a “yes” or “no”, to which, sounding defeated, Madlanga replied, “I accept that we are ready for a female head of the Judiciary”. Maya said she found another version of the question directed to her “patriarchal and patronising”. 😑

Perhaps a better use of the commission’s time – and its interest in gender – would be interrogating some issues raised by Maya herself in her interview, such as the judiciary’s alleged lack of an anti-sexual harassment policy, and her experience of being a rare example of a pregnant sitting judge. “They did not know what to do with me. Eventually, I was advised that the minister would give me four months’ leave allowed under the Basic Conditions of Employment Act.” 

Judge President Dunstan Mlambo’s interview today quickly took a turn for the scandalous: he had to answer to allegations that he used his role to request sexual favours from women hoping to act as judges in the Gauteng High Court. Mlambo told the commission these were baseless rumours manufactured to discredit his candidacy for Chief Justice.  

Interviews for all four candidates, including the possibly sleep-deprived Raymond Zondo, will wrap at the end of the week, after which the commission will deliberate and make its recommendations to President Cyril Ramaphosa, who must make the final decision. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 3 February 2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.