Constitutional Court candidate Judge Rammaka Steven Mathopo told the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Tuesday about the "unfair treatment" of junior colleagues by the so-called "top six" at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who is chairing the JSC interviews, questioned Mathopo about the group, seemingly named after the African National Congress's most senior national leaders. It's alleged that the SCA "top six" mistreats junior judges at the court.
"Yes, it is true. We had those problems and we experienced those problems quite painfully," Mathopo said.
"I witnessed, I heard [and] I experienced; and it was painful CJ (chief justice) when colleagues, especially junior colleagues, were subjected to unfair criticism, unfair differentiation [and] unfair treatment by the senior colleagues. That troubled me a lot."
He claimed that some members of the "top six" were opposed to his appointment at the court but "unfortunately for them, this body (the JSC) saw it fit…and endorsed my appointment".
Mathopo said he raised issues with the senior colleagues, adding, "I didn't care whether they liked me or they didn't like me".
But the problems continued until Judge Mandisa Maya took over as deputy president of the SCA.
He said Maya pushed for sensitivity training, but that the group boycotted it. The first meeting was like "preaching to the converted", he added.
"The wounds kept on festering and festering and we realised we were not resolving this."
He said they had another meeting in 2019 and told those judges in the group "where to get off".
Mogoeng asked why the "shocking development" around the "top six" did not seem to receive the same public attention it deserved from the media, such as naming and shaming them.
Mathopo said, "The answer is simple, we do not own the media space and if we have control of the media space we would be able to write about everything that happens there. The top six then would include people of [a] particular colour. The media and everybody else would shy away from exposing, perhaps the darlings of a particular colour."
"The proceedings of the JSC are open to the public, but you will not see or hear anything written extensively about what is happening or the toxicity of the 'top six' then," he added.
Mathopo also said no one lodged a formal grievance against the "top six".
He was reluctant to name them.
He said the Constitutional Court was different to the SCA in that there was no "top six" there.
"We don't have seniority, and everybody is equal", he said, adding that the court was "a comfortable space to stretch one's leg and write".
Mathopo was an attorney before he was appointed as a judge of the High Court and Supreme Court of Appeal.
He has also acted as a justice of the Constitutional Court.