Judicial strife: What Mogoeng, Zuma, Malema and the JSC tell us about the State of Justice

The last couple of weeks have seen the judiciary in the wars.

With the continuing saga around errant Cape Judge President John Hlophe in the background and former president Jacob Zuma’s assault on the courts continuing unabated, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) sat this week to consider various vacancies on the bench. But the sitting, led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, gave a worrying insight into how the country’s judges are selected. Mogoeng – whose Nkandla judgment in 2016 increasingly seems to be an outlier – threw himself into the political arena, first by ostensibly attacking his colleagues of the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein, and then appearing to accuse Pravin Gordhan of impropriety.

This was, of course, seized on by Julius Malema, who sits on the JSC by dint of his position as a Member of Parliament. The EFF leader never misses an opportunity to grandstand, and this week’s JSC proceedings were no different. For the JSC, usually singularly focused on judicial matters at hand, politics became the central issue. And when judges were eventually nominated and forwarded to the president for assent, the omissions were glaring.

Some of South Africa’s most brilliant legal minds were rejected, while judges who presided over controversial political cases were also left in the cold – including judges who found against Malema and his party. There is a campaign underway to discredit the judiciary and undermine judges. It is clearly being led by Zuma, who has made the most egregious statements about the country’s highest court, and abetted by Malema, who has made various allegations about judges without producing any evidence. These developments are a cause for concern – because, without legitimacy, the courts have nothing to ground itself in.

By Pieter du Toit – Assistant Editor: In-depth news (News24)

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