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Judge Mandisa Maya Poised to Make History as South Africa's First Female Chief Justice

Published February 29, 2024
4 months ago

As the term of the current Chief Justice Raymond Zondo draws to a close on the 31st of August, South Africa stands at the cusp of a historic moment. Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya is expected to assume the mantle as the nation’s first female Chief Justice, marking a significant milestone in the country's gender representation within the judiciary.

The announcement of Judge Maya's nomination was made in a statement by the Presidency, noting President Cyril Ramaphosa's call to political party leaders for submissions on her suitability. Traditionally, the President's nomination might seem a formal procedure as the constitution grants discretionary power in choosing the Chief Justice, despite mandatory consultations. Nonetheless, these consultations are viewed as an essential aspect of a transparent and inclusive appointment process.

This nomination arrives after a notably contentious appointment process in 2022, which saw four contenders vying for the position, leading to chaotic scenes before the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The attempt to run a more competitive process then was possibly a response to earlier criticisms aimed at the approach taken by former president Jacob Zuma when nominating Mogoeng Mogoeng as a sole candidate.

However, it led to unsavory political maneuvers that marred the interviews of two respected candidates, Judge Dunstan Mlambo and Judge Zondo. Judge Maya, who had been a candidate at the time, faced a comparatively unsubstantial interview, problematically centered around her gender.

Though the JSC subsequently recommended Judge Maya, President Ramaphosa ultimately appointed Judge Zondo in what was speculated to be a form of recognition for his role in helming the State Capture inquiry.

Judge Maya's current nomination is seen as a diplomatic move by President Ramaphosa. While some may harbor disappointment that Judge Mlambo is not in the running, Judge Maya is touted as a favorite within the ANC National Executive Committee and enjoys broad popularity. Her judicial experience is substantial, highlighted by endorsements from law school deans across South Africa and making history by delivering a significant judgment in isiXhosa.

The Democratic Alliance's spokesperson on legal matters, Glynnis Breytenbach, commended Judge Maya as "fit for purpose," though expressed a wish for a more open appointment process. It's unclear if other political parties will challenge her nomination, but her experience and competency stand as a testament to her qualifications for the highest judicial post in the nation.

As South Africa awaits the confirmation of this appointment, the significance of Judge Maya's potential ascent to Chief Justice runs deeper than the position itself. It signals a broader shift towards recognizing and valifying female leadership within the most pivotal structures of governance. Judge Maya stands not just as a judge fit for duty, but as a symbol of progress in a country navigating the complex interplay of tradition, transformation, and the rule of law.

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