By Koketso Mamabolo
“We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past; honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity,” reads the preamble to the Constitution.
“We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights…”
Bartolomé de las Casas coined the term human rights in 1550, where a debate was taking place over the right to self-government. In Valladolid, Spain, de las Casas said, “All the peoples of the world are humans, and there is only one definition of all humans and of each one, that is that they are rational.”
All human beings are rational but few are as rational as newly appointed Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who President Cyril Rampahosa has tasked with leading the judiciary for the next 12 years, in a role that will see him as the leading guardian of the Constitution and protector of the rights enshrined within it. Starting from April the 1st, the Deputy Chief Justice, who has been serving as the Acting Chief Justice since the early departure of former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
President Ramaphosa will exercise his discretion in appointing Judge Mandisa Maya as the Deputy Chief Justice to fill the void that will be left by Acting Chief Justice Zondo when he takes up the permanent position at the helm of the court.
“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,” said the President in a statement.
ACJ Zondo’s appointment follows interviews conducted by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) in February. Judge Mandisa Maya was the JSC’s preferred candidate but the final decision lies slowly with the Head of State. Judge Maya is currently serving as the Judge President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, and her move to the Constitutional Court will require the President to appoint a new head of the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Opposition parties have welcomed the decision for ACJ Zondo to fill the role permanently, recognising him as a judicial officer with integrity and a level of skill and experience which will enhance not only the apex court but the judiciary at large. “We are very delighted with this appointment. Chief justice Zondo brings years and years of experience to this position. The Constitutional Court has been without a permanent leader for some time now. He will bring stability and direction into that bench. We are very happy, we warmly congratulate him,” said Honourable Glynnis Breytenbach, a Member of Parliament on the opposition bench.
ACJ Zondo’s appointment has also been welcomed by civil society, most notably by Judges Matter and Corruption Watch.
The incoming Chief Justice has been firmly in the public eye since his predecessor seconded him to lead the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture. The Commission’s work took place over four years, giving the public plenty of time to see ACJ Zondo in action. One of the hallmarks of the Commission was ACJ Zondo’s calm and measured approach which was punctuated by carefully considered questions informed by legal reasoning.
ACJ Zondo’s career as a judicial officer began at the Labour Court where he was appointed as a judge in 1997. He held the position of Judge President of the Labour and Labour Appeals courts for a decade. He joined the Constitutional Court in 2012 and has been the Deputy Chief Justice since 2017.