JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday appointed Raymond Zondo as the country’s chief justice, snubbing a recommendation by the Judicial Service Commission to appoint Mandisa Maya, who would have been the country’s first female chief justice.
Justice Zondo, who was the deputy chief justice, succeeds Mogoeng Mogoeng who retired in October last year.
The 61-year-old Zondo will assume office on April 1.
Perhaps to appease the Judicial Service Commission, Ramaphosa said he would nominate Maya for the position of deputy chief justice once Zondo assumes office.
Four judges were interviewed for the position including Zondo and Maya. The other two were Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga
and Justice Dunston Mlambo.
South Africa’s constitution requires Ramaphosa to consult the Judicial Service Commission and leaders of political parties represented in parliament before making his appointment. The Judicial Service Commission, which conducted public interviews for the judges, had recommended Maya, leading to criticism that it had gone beyond its mandate by appearing to choose the chief justice for Ramaphosa.
“The inclusive process of selecting the next chief justice demonstrated not only the value that South Africans place on the judiciary, but also the depth of experience and capability within the senior ranks of the judiciary,” Ramaphosa said.
“The position of chief justice carries a great responsibility in our democracy. As the head of the judiciary, the chief justice is a guardian of our constitution and the laws adopted by the freely elected representatives of the people. The chief justice stands as the champion of the rights of all South Africans and bears responsibility for ensuring equal access to justice. I have every confidence that Justice Zondo will acquit himself with distinction in this position.”
Justice Zondo was first appointed as a judge of the Labour Court in 1997 and was judge president of the Labour and Labour Appeals courts between 2000 and 2010. He has been a judge of the Constitutional Court since 2012 and was appointed as deputy chief Justice in 2017.
Zondo became the public face of Ramaphosa’s anti-corruption drive while heading a recent national inquiry into allegations of widespread graft under former President Jacob Zuma during his nearly a decade as head of state.
Last year the country’s highest Constitutional Court sentenced Zuma to 15 months imprisonment after he failed to appear at the Zondo corruption inquiry despite being instructed to.
In January, the inquiry’s first published report pointed to systemic graft during Zuma’s tenure, following three years of investigation and more than 300 witnesses.