Raymond Zondo has been appointed South Africa’s Chief Justice. Photo: Phill Magakoe/AFP

President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed Raymond Zondo as South Africa’s Chief Justice. It is difficult to overstate the importance of this appointment for upholding South Africa’s constitution and its primary precept, the rule of law. The president has shown strategic independence and held the line against malicious forces.

Lest we forget, the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) earlier this year made a mockery of what is meant to be a serious and considered process. Almost every seasoned South African commentator lamented the crass way in which Raymond Zondo and Dunston Mlambo were treated. It was clear that members of the JSC were intent on stacking the decks against Zondo and Mlambo in favour of Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya. This was no fault of Maya’s. Rather, it was a reflection of the poor character of those who abused the process for their own political ends.

In response to the JSC, President Ramaphosa was typically diplomatic in stating that the JSC had overreached. He pointed out that it had not been requested to make a recommendation in respect of the chief justice, but to advise on the suitability of the four candidates. Mandisa Maya has been appointed as the Deputy Chief Justice.

At Good Governance Africa, we have been unequivocal in calling for President Ramaphosa to act without fear or favour, to stand up strongly for the rule of law, and to govern firmly against those who would destroy our democracy. We recognise that this is no easy task.  The president’s appointment of Zondo comes after the judge presided over a mammoth inquiry that has revealed extensive governance failures in controlling and sanctioning rampant material corruption. To that extent, the appointment reflects clear-eyed courage.

Good governance means the transparent, accountable, efficient and inclusive allocation of resources in the interests of all, insofar as this is possible. It can only take root if the rule of law is upheld. Since 1994, it is the judiciary that has consistently called the executive to account, especially when parliament has failed to do so. This is one important and concrete expression of the rule of law in action.

We wish Judge Raymond Zondo all the very best in his upcoming tenure as Chief Justice. We trust that he will continue to uphold the rule of law and govern in a way that truly serves all South Africans.

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