In what probably came as a surprise to many, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced yesterday that he has appointed Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as the next chief justice of South Africa with effect from April 1.
Why a suprise? Because the president was widely expected to appoint the country’s first female chief justice, Supreme Court of Appeal president Judge Mandisa Maya, who was the first choice of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
But Ramaphosa exercised his constitutional right to make his own selection and he chose Zondo who was the JSC’s bottom recommendation out of four.
The president also announced that Judge Maya will become Zondo’s deputy. As Zondo has only a few years before he reaches mandatory retirement age, could it be that Maya is being groomed as “a lady in waiting” for the top post? Thanks to his work on the State Capture Commission, Zondo is a widely-trusted figure and could be seen as a “safe pair of hands” as the DA’s John Steehuisen described him in his positive reaction to Ramaphosa’s decision.
Predictably, the EFF’s Julius Malema, who pushed hard for Maya to get the top post, slammed Zondo’s appointment, calling it short-sighted and factional. The EFF leader also repeated accusations that Zondo behaved improperly by lying about his relationship with former president Jacob Zuma and failing to recuse himself from the State Capture Commission when confronted with Zuma as a witness last year.
The ACDP has welcomed Zondo’s appointment, commenting that while all four candidates “were exceptional”, Zondo’s extensive experience gives him an edge as the new chief justice will “need to hit the ground running to deal with the many challenges facing the judiciary and to ensure that the rule of law and independence of the judiciary is protected”.
Zondo succeeds Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, an outspoken Christian whose appointment in 2011 was a surprise to many but not to him as he stated publicly that God has told him he wanted him to fill that role.
Zondo’s faith has not come up in the selection process, as far as I am aware and certainly he is not outspoken about it like his predecessor. But I do recall once, I was pleasantly surprised to note his presence on a Zoom prayer call.
When the process to select a new chief justice began in September last year calls were made for fervent prayer regarding Mogoeng’s successor and, indeed, prayer networks took up the call. Many of those who were praying breathed a sigh of relief and thanks for answered prayer when certain of the eight initial nominees for the post failed to make the final four.
It could be said that the jury is still out on whether the prayer warriors see Zondo’s appointment as an answer to prayer but there can be no doubt that we should be praying for him and his deputy as they take up their vital responsibility in upholding our justice system and democracy.
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