Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has said he wants to ensure that by the time he leaves office, the judiciary of South Africa has strengthened its independence as it is critical to sustaining democracy.
He was addressing the media for the first time since his appointment as the country’s Chief Justice, where he commended former President Jacob Zuma for acceding to the establishment of the Office of the Chief Justice.
Zondo said he felt honoured and privileged to be appointed, adding that he had no doubts that he would work well with all members of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).
The JSC was criticised for how it handled the interview process for Chief Justice candidates, sparking debates on whether politicians should be part of the formation in future.
Zondo shared that when he chaired the JSC in October last year he found cooperation and respect from all members of the JSC and added that Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, who is a member, was courteous and respectful.
He believed that Justice Mandisa Maya, who he was up against during the interview process, would play a critical role in his office.
When asked to comment on KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala’s call for a move away from a constitutional democracy and a review of the Constitution, Zondo said everyone was entitled to have their view about South Africa’s constitutional dispensation.
He added that all the judiciary’s power came from the Constitution, passed by Parliament.
“Our Constitution envisaged the judiciary performing certain functions in accordance with the Constitution and I do not think that it performs functions that it should not perform in a constitutional democracy such as ours. Obviously Premier Zikalala may be disgruntled about certain decisions but those decisions are taken according to the Constitution,” Zondo stated.
He said allegations that insinuated that the judiciary was captured were very serious and should not be made lightly by anybody.
Zondo said it was not in the interest of anybody who loved this country to portray the judiciary as captured.
“If anybody has evidence that any judge or the judiciary is captured, they must come forward with the evidence,” he stressed.
He said former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had, in the past, invited those with evidence to come forward but no one has presented evidence.
Zondo that the Judicial Conduct Committee was there to investigate such matters without fear and prejudice.
When asked if the State capture work would, in any way, interfere with his new role, Zondo said it would not, explaining that parts of the reports released were detailed to show that the findings were based on a consideration and analysis of evidence.
He said his colleagues in the Constitutional Court had been extremely supportive and had been understanding.
Zondo shared that he had delegated some of his work to them with the belief that they would continue to support him during the remainder of his work at the State capture commission.
When asked about his view on the transformation of the judiciary, Zondo said he was satisfied that most people who care to read court judgments would know that the judiciary was making a good contribution towards transformation.
Zondo believes the judiciary enjoys a lot of confidence among South Africans including in defending and upholding the rule of law.
“This judiciary we have will continue to make sure that it does so without fear, favour or prejudice. It is important to us as judges and magistrates to remember that we are not in these positions to be popular but to administer justice,” he stressed.
Zondo urged judges to always strive to make decisions that were in accordance with the rule of law even if it made them unpopular.
He believes that he will achieve his goals and that he will be able to lay a foundation for long-term goals during his term.
Zondo assured South Africans that he was strongly independent in the case of political and judicial disagreement.