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We finally have a permanent Chief Justice

Some presidents have no respect for deadlines. Last week, just an hour after we told you that women judges were making waves across the world – and predicted that SCA Judge President Mandisa Maya would soon become our first female Chief Justice – Ramaphosa announced Raymond Zondo as his choice instead!

Bruised egos aside, we’re optimistic about Ramaphosa’s decision. Zondo is a brilliant choice from an outstanding field and has been acting in the role for several months. As Sunday Times legal reporter Franny Rabkin put it: “[C]hoosing one of the four nominees was always a nice-life problem for Ramaphosa.” 

Given the fraught nature of the process that led up to his announcement, any choice Ramaphosa made was going to be criticised. The JSC recommended Maya, setting SA up to join other countries, like Kenya, that have finally chosen women to lead their judiciary. 

But, as we’ve said before, the JSC’s process was marred by sexist and bizarre questioning by commissioners like Dali Mpofu and Julius Malema, as well as generally unbecoming behaviour. Commentators noted that Zondo’s appointment was important: it meant he was not seen as being punished for his sterling, independent work on the state capture commission he headed.

So Zondo’s appointment has widely been welcomed – even by Mpofu in his capacity as JSC spokesperson. There is some regret that we didn’t get our first female chief justice after all, but Maya’s time is coming: Ramaphosa has indicated that he plans to nominate Maya as Zondo’s deputy, lining her up to become Chief Justice in two years when Zondo retires from the ConCourt; his term on the top bench ends in 2024. 

Zondo’s appointment could not have come at a more appropriate time for the judiciary. We’ve told you before about the strain the top court has taken because of several vacancies. Last week, it revoked a judgment it had delivered a few days earlier. This was an unpleasant first and, by Zondo’s own admission, is among the major challenges he will face in stabilising the courts during his short stint as Chief Justice. Another thorny issue will be the many implicated figures from the state capture commission approaching the ConCourt for judicial review. ANC chair and Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe has already declared that he’ll seek a legal review of the commission’s findings against him. Should such reviews make their way to the ConCourt, Zondo will have to recuse himself. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 17 March  2022. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.