Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa this week set in motion the process of appointing South Africa’s next chief justice to succeed Mogoeng Mogoeng by inviting the public to nominate candidates for the position, which is undoubtedly one of key pillars of our constitutional democracy.
Ramaphosa’s announcement was simultaneously accompanied by the establishment of a high-level panel tasked with shortlisting the candidates.
The panel will be chaired by reputable former UN high commissioner for human rights judge Navi Pillay, who is also a member of the International Court of Justice.
Included in the panel is former public protector Thuli Madonsela, as well as Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, among others.
The president’s decision is a breath of fresh air.
It is a masterstroke that will further inspire public confidence in the judiciary at a time when the country’s judiciary is under attack by those who don’t believe in a judiciary that is independent of political influence.
Ramaphosa’s move is extraordinary by any measure.
It is a clear break from the past where presidents could easily pick their political loyalists and acolytes ahead of competent and independent individuals.
It’s a significant move that promotes transparency, which has been lacking in government’s decision-making.
Apart from affording citizens an opportunity to become part of decision-making, public participation enhances trust in governance and becomes an important mechanism to strengthen a vibrant civil society.
The process will undoubtedly deepen confidence in the independence of our judiciary, which has been uncompromising in its handling of sensitive political and economic crimes.
South Africa was once on a slippery slope as politicians and other powerful individuals had chosen to believe that politics must be a distant second to law.
Former president Jacob Zuma, for instance, was stopped dead in his tracks by the Constitutional Court as he sought to undermine Madonsela by refusing to implement her recommendations.
That court again demonstrated its independence when it sent Zuma to jail for contempt of court, again proving to ordinary citizens that no one is above the law.
The beauty of the current hunt for a new chief justice is that Ramaphosa is spoilt for choice as this country boasts an array of talented and independent men and women in the legal profession.
We have the current acting chief justice Raymond Zondo, Constitutional Court judge Sisi Khampepe, judge president of the Gauteng division of the high court Dunstan Mlambo and many other legal eagles such as senior counsel Tembeka Ngcukaitobi who – if nominated – will make for an interesting and credible process.
Retired judge Dikgang Moseneke was twice overlooked for the position as a result of the flawed process for the selection of the chief justice merely because it rested in the hands of one person.
Ramaphosa has done well to resist the temptation of imposing a candidate without national consent.
The process will surely deepen public confidence in the independence and integrity of the judiciary. Kudos to you, Mr President.
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