Chief justice Raymond Zondo this week failed to explain why he appointed controversial retired judge Zak Yacoob to the Constitutional Court.
Yacoob’s appointment is shrouded in secrecy, and it is believed he was hired to look at all the appeal cases before the Constitutional Court.
In essence, sources said, Yacoob would have the power to advise the 11 justices of the court on which appeal case to dismiss and which to entertain, raising red flags on the constitutional principle of judicial independence.
It is also not clear how Yacoob was selected as the most suitable person for the role or whether a public recruitment process was conducted.
Yacoob, who has a history of entangling himself in political controversy, is also a long-time ally of Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, and his shadow in the apex court would raise alarm among political rivals of Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration.
Yesterday, Yacoob confirmed he was appointed and stressed he wasn’t “obliged to give out any information” about it.
“I have been appointed, but that’s my business. The basis of the appointment has nothing to do with you.
“Go ahead and publish what you like.”
The retired judge asked this journalist to stop “interrogating” him about the appointment. “Why don’t you ask the chief justice? When the chief justice gives you answers, it will be right. It isn’t my business; ask the chief justice, he made the appointment.
“In fact, the minister made the appointment,” he added.
Yacoob referred all questions to chief justice Zondo and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
Sunday World can confirm that Lamola only endorsed Yacoob’s appointment after Zondo recommended him.
“The minister just endorsed the appointment because if he starts asking questions about these appointments, he would be accused of trying to interfere with the judiciary,” a source close to Lamola said.
Yacoob is no stranger to controversy.
He was forced to apologise to the ANC veteran Mathews Phosa in May 2021 after he phoned and swore at the former Mpumalanga premier.
Yacoob accused Phosa of writing “such a f**king opinion” for the ANC on the issue of the step-aside rule.
The party had asked four lawyers, including Phosa, for their legal opinions on whether the ANC could suspend its then secretary-general, Ace Magashule, if he didn’t step aside voluntarily as he was facing criminal charges.
In his legal opinion, Phosa informed the party that they could not force out Magashule, who was criminally charged, as the move would constitute a suspension, which the party could not effect, as the secretary general is the engine of the organisation.
Phosa’s legal opinion seems to have rubbed Yacoob, a retired constitutional court judge, the wrong way, to the point where he picked up the phone and hurled insults at the former ANC treasurer general.
Yacoob told Phosa that he wrote a “sh*t opinion” and demanded to know from the politician why he wrote such a “f***king opinion”.
Yacoob only apologised to Phosa after the politician opened a criminal case against him.
Also in 2021, Yacoob was fired from Cricket South Africa, where he was interim board chairperson after he verbally threatened TimesLive journalist Tiisetso Malepa, who asked him questions about the suspension of the organisation’s then-acting CEO, Kugandrie Govender.
Govender had complained that Yacoob was verbally harassing her and treating her unfairly.
When Malepa called Yacoob for comment, the retired judge called him “a dishonest and irresponsible idiot.”
In 2019, Yacoob was caught on tape repeatedly asking the then-fired director of the KZN Blind and Deaf Society, Shamilla Surjoo, to drop her case against the organisation at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation, and Arbitration and let the matter “go away.”
Yacoob was the president of the society at the time.
The retired judge even sent Surjoo text messages asking her to “name the amount” as he would pay it from his personal bank account. When he was exposed for offering Surjoo what would seem to be a bribe, Yacoob sent her a letter of apology.
And now the chief justice has appointed the man to the apex court. Zondo spokesperson Lusanda Ntuli told this newspaper yesterday that she was still waiting for a response from her boss.
We sent the questions on Thursday morning.