SA courts uphold all rights set out in Bill of Rights: Zondo

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Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says the South African courts have to date enforced all the rights set out in the Bill of Rights.

Zondo was speaking at the National Conference on 30 Years of Human Rights in South Africa, underway in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. He was reflecting on the work done by the courts regarding the Constitution.

“In terms of Section 2, our Constitution proclaims the supremacy of the constitution and says our constitution is the supreme law of the republic. In Section 38, our Constitution goes on to confer on the courts that are competent to enforce and defend the fundamental rights in our Bill of Rights. Our courts over the past 30 years have done exactly that.”

The three-day conference will see key stakeholders and government Departments reflecting on the 30 years of South Africa’s transformation agenda and efforts towards promoting democracy, development and human rights.

Independence of judiciary

Zondo says that in his 27 years on the bench, no Minister or Official has attempted to discuss a case. This as the outgoing Chief Justice reflected on the independence of the judiciary 30 years into democracy at the National Conference on Human Rights in South Africa.

Just months shy of his retirement, the Chief Justice sees no interference in his nearly three decades on the bench but acknowledges that there are challenges concerning institutional independence.

“I have finished 27 years on the bench, and not once have I ever had any minister or president official phone me or ask for a meeting to discuss how a particular case should be decided but we have serious challenges when it comes to institutional independence,”

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Zondo focuses on South Africa’s courts, which he describes as the defenders of the Constitution. A sentiment echoes by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who encourages citizens not to shy away from the progress that has been made despite the challenges.

“Certainly there have been challenges and shortcomings over the past 30 years, and we have a long way to go towards completely fulfilling the promise that is set out in our constitution. …Chief Justice, you are absolutely right it would have been apt for the three arms of the state to present a report on how far we have gone past 30 years to advance in advancing the lives of ordinary South Africans,” says Ramaphosa.

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Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, Zondo, who previously chaired the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, will bid farewell to the judiciary without seeing those implicated in state capture face the full might of the law.

“What we have got to emphasise is that it doesn’t help for the police or the NPA to rush, to take cases to court when they are not ready because people who are otherwise guilty will go off Scott-free,” Zondo adds.