‘Ramaphosa suspended me for political reasons’ – Judge Hlophe

Suspended Western Cape High Court Judge President John Hlophe says President Cyril Ramaphosa suspended him because he was “bowing to some political pressure”. He also said that his suspension was unlawful.

Accused of Improper influence on Constitutional Court judges

Hlophe revealed this on Friday during an interview with EFF treasurer general Omphile Maotwe on episode 13 of the EFF Podcast.

Maotwe asked Hlophe if there are any legal cases that he is facing personally.

“The issue that everybody knows has to do with the longstanding case against me relating to allegations against me.  [Allegations] that I tried improperly to influence judges in the Constitutional Court. That [case] started in the year 2008. It is still going on till today. As you know, I was suspended for that….

Suspended, later cleared by the JSC

“When this thing started in 2008, I went on suspension. I took voluntary suspension, and I was off the bench for 18 months. Then I was cleared by the JSC [Judicial Service Commission] on the 29th of September 2009. I went back and worked. Between September 29, 2009, and December 17, 2022, I have been working and doing my work. Nothing has happened after that,” said Hlophe.  

Matter revived by DA, Freedom Under Law

“After I was cleared, there came interlopers – the Democratic Alliance, Freedom Under Law under Justice [Johann] Kriegler, and Helen Zille. They brought this thing back again and it started all over. They litigated. Helen Zille claimed she is the premier of the Western Cape, and she did not participate. She did not sit on the judiciary. Based on that technicality and others, the thing started all over again.

President succumbed to political pressure

“Now when I was suspended by President Ramaphosa, it was clear to me that was for political reasons… Firstly, President Ramaphosa is a politician. He is the head of state. So, whenever he takes a decision, it is a political decision. Secondly, it is unconscionable, unheard of in any proper world that a person can be suspended on two separate occasions in respect of the same thing. It doesn’t happen anywhere in the world. It is clear to me that he did not act lawfully. He acted politically. He was bowing to some political pressure. Perhaps I can indicate that we challenged that [suspension]. We brought an application to court. Even today we have not been given a hearing in the Gauteng [High] Court, which is headed by Dunstan Mlambo,” said Hlophe.

In 2008, all the justices of the Constitutional Court at the time, laid a formal complaint against Hlophe. They laid the case with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The judges complained that Hlophe sought to influence their ruling on pending court judgements. The said judgements involved former president Jacob Zuma. They alleged that he urged them to rule in Zuma’s favour. 

JSC rules against him for misconduct 

In 2021, the JSC found Hlophe guilty of gross misconduct in relation to his alleged conduct in connection with Zuma’s 2008 litigation. As a result, Hlophe is facing possible impeachment.

In November 2023, parliament’s justice portfolio committee recommended to the National Assembly to remove Hlophe from judicial office and be impeached. Parliament’s vote on Hlophe’s impeachment was set for some time in January this year. Parliament is expected to decide on a date for Hlophe’s impeachment soon. 

Looming impeachment

Hlophe told Maotwe that he is challenging the looming impeachment against him.

“Parliament wants to proceed and impeach me. Our position is very clear. There are so many legal processes and legal cases that are going on. Any decision to impeach me will be premature because it will be final. We can no longer deal with that. So, there is no rush. I don’t understand what they are rushing.

“If they go ahead with that [impeachment process], we have brought an action against them. We have brought a legal application against them, to stop them and we have done that. The papers were served the day before yesterday. We hope sanity will prevail because this is just a political thing,” said Hlophe.

Being pursued

Maotwe asked Hlophe why he thinks he is being “pursued like this”.

“As I said earlier on, in the Western Cape, it is a foreign land for black people. If you come here, you rock the boat. You advocate transformation, you pioneer transformation. You are going to be the enemy of the establishment,” said Hlophe.

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