President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as the country’s Chief Justice effective from the 1st of April.
He has accordingly indicated his intention that once the new Chief Justice assumes office, he will nominate Justice Mandisa Maya for the position of Deputy Chief Justice.
The appointment of Raymond Zondo as the Head of the country’s Judiciary went against the wish of the Judicial Service Commission which recommended the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal Justice Mandisa Maya for the position of the Chief Justice.
JSC Interview | Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo part one:
Part two of the interview:
President Ramaphosa’s decision follows consultations with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the leaders of parties in the National Assembly on the four nominees for appointment as Chief Justice.
The statement from the Presidency says, “In terms of the Constitution, the Chief Justice is “the head of the judiciary and exercises responsibility over the establishment and monitoring of norms and standards for the exercise of the judicial functions of all courts.”
Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was one of four candidates to be interviewed for the position of Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court.
The interviews began on February 1. This was the first time the JSC held interviews with more than one candidate forwarded by the President to hold the office of a top judge in the country.
The interview process came after Ramaphosa invited the public to forward names and appointed an advisory panel to counsel him.
Described as a gentle giant, draped in green robes and bearing a distinct baritone, Raymond Mnyamezeli Mlungisi Zondo was born on the 4th of May in 1960 in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal in a downtrodden society. He later matriculated at the St Mary’s Seminary.
Thereafter, law would pique his interest but, like many others, he would be met by challenges in his pursuit of a better life.
“When I finished matric, I was quite confident that I would get what used to be called an exemption and therefore would qualify to go into university. I didn’t think I would have a problem with getting that and I was confident that I was going to get a bursary too. My problem was that at home the situation was quite bad. My mother had stopped working two years before my matric, she had lost her job and by the time I finished what would now be called Grade 11,” says Zondo.
However, this didn’t deter him from following his dreams.
“I approached a certain Indian businessman who owned a certain wholesale shop. I told him my story, said I wanted to go to university to study but this is the problem, is there any way he could give me a loan which I would use to support my mother and my siblings so that after I finish my degree I could then pay him back. Very interestingly that man didn’t even ask me many questions. He said, “Okay, I can help you but I can’t give you money. I’ll give you a voucher which you must give to your mom. Once a month she must come to my shop and she will be given groceries to the value… I think it was R20 or R40.” It was quite some money and he said until you finish your degree this is what we’ll do and you can repay it after your degree so I was very happy. He didn’t ask me to sign anything, he just took my word and my mom could not believe it when I came back from town and told her,” says Zondo.
He studied law at the University of Zululand, the University of Natal – now the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal and later at the University of South Africa. After his studies, Zondo then went to serve articles before being admitted as an attorney. He earned his stripes by working in various commissions of inquiries from the early ’90s. During the advent of democracy, he was appointed as a member of the Ministerial Task Team which was responsible for drafting the Labour Relations Bill for the post-apartheid South Africa.
Two years later, in 1996 he was appointed the first chairperson of the Governing Body of the Commission for the Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). Later, Zondo would progress to the higher echelons of the judiciary.
In 1997, Justice Zondo was appointed as an Acting Judge of the Labour Court. And in 2000 he was Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court. While he was Judge President, Justice Zondo served in various AD HOC committees. After completing his term of office as Judge President in 2010, he returned to the North Gauteng Division of the High Court. He also served as Acting Judge of the Constitutional Court until 2012. In the same year, Zondo ascended to the position of Judge of the Constitutional Court.
In June 2017, Justice Zondo was to hold the second most powerful position in the judiciary of the Republic of South Africa, after being elected as Deputy Chief Justice under former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure following the retirement of Dikgang Moseneke. While Zondo has enjoyed an illustrious career in the judiciary, he was thrust into the spotlight after being appointed Chairperson of the State Capture Commission investigating allegations of corruption.
However, his work during the inquiry proved to be amongst the most challenging.
The highlight of the Commission, however, was perhaps Zondo’s legal tilt with former President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison after the Constitutional Court found that he was in contempt of court. The Commission approached the apex court for a second time after Zuma failed to appear before it, setting a precedence for the respect of the rule of law and equality before it.
Now at the helm of the judiciary as Acting Chief Justice, Zondo has butted heads with some political party members.
In the latest incident, he expressed his disappointment after Tourism Minister and African National Congress (ANC) National Executive Committee (NEC) member, Lindiwe Sisulu penned an opinion piece in which she questioned economic and social justice the Constitution and judiciary had delivered in a democratic dispensation.
Zondo, on behalf of the judiciary, lamented Sisulu’s analysis.
Despite his stern approach, Zondo says his upbringing and the benevolence of a stranger continue to be his driving force.