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Judge Dumisani H Zondi

Candidate Bio | Updated May 2024

Justice Dumisani Zondi is a judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal and chairperson of the Electoral Court.

Born in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal, Zondi had a long career as an attorney in private practice before his elevation to the bench.

After completing his B.Iuris law degree at Fort Hare University in 1982, followed by an LLB degree at the then University of Natal in 1984, Zondi started his legal career as a candidate attorney at East Rand law firm Mendelsohn & De Villiers.

After his admission as an attorney in 1986, he became an associate attorney at Hattenbach & Abraham, specialising in labour law.

Zondi was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a masters in law (LLM) at the prestigious Georgetown University Law School in Washington DC, which he completed in 1988.

On his return to South Africa, he served a brief stint as a legal advisor at LegalWise before starting his own legal practice, Zondi Attorneys Inc, where he would stay for the next 18 years.

From 2004, Zondi served intermittently as an acting judge in the Western Cape High Court until his permanent appointment in May 2007.

From 2009, he started acting as a judge of the Competition Appeal Court, and later acting in the Labour Appeal Court from 2010, gaining valuable appellate experience in both.

Zondi started acting judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2013 and was appointed permanently the following year.

As a judge, Zondi has penned several important judgments.

In Woodway CC v Vallie, a store employee requested a Muslim customer to remove their Fez (a religious hat) while in the store. The customer filed a damages claim in the Equality Court, arguing that this was unfair discrimination on the grounds of religious belief, as the fez was an expression of their Islamic religion, which is protected by the equality clause in the Constitution and the Equality Act (the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act – phew, what mouthful!). On appeal the store led a technical argument that the customer had not disclose a congnisable cause of action in their pleadings, and their case should’ve been dismissed. Zondi rejected this arguments on the basis that it would frustrate the promise of equality and easy access to justice if technical, formalistic arguments would trump substantive cases of unfair discrimination. He upheld the Equality Court’s finding of unfair discrimination.

As an appellate judge he wrote the judgment in Premier of Gauteng Province v Democratic Alliance, an appeal against a judgment of the Gauteng High Court. In that case, the ANC-led provincial government took a transparently political decision to dissolve the council and place under administration the DA-led City of Tshwane municipality. The DA fought the decision and won a court order reversing it. On appeal at the SCA, Zondi dismissed the provincial government’s appeal and found that both in terms of section 159(2) of the Constitution and the Municipal Structures Act, it was inconceivable for the Gauteng Government to place the Tshwane municipality in unlimited administration. He therefore set it aside.

Zondi has so far had 10 of judgments taken on appeal; five were reversed while seven were upheld. Zondi also held a brief stint as an acting justice of the Constitutional Court in 2017.

In 2022 he was appointed as chairperson of the Electoral Court, a seat that would turn out to be blazing hot ahead of the 2024 national and provincial elections, which are the most contentious since 1994.

In uMkhonto Wesizwe v Electoral Commission, Zondi led a 5-judge bench to determine whether former president and master political operative Jacob Zuma was disqualified from standing in the upcoming elections as a parliamentary candidate for the political upstart uMkhonto Wesizwe Party. This was due to Zuma’s 15-month prison sentence for contempt of court. Section 47(1)(e) of the Constitution disqualifies anyone who has been sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment without an option of a fine, but only if they have exhausted the appeal process. In a unanimous judgment, Zondi found that Zuma was not disqualified as his prison sentence was issued by the Constitutional Court, the apex court, and was incapable of appeal. Therefore, the section 47(1)(e) disqualification did not apply to it. The judgment attracted withering criticism by legal commentators and spurred the Independent Electoral Commission to take it on urgent appeal to the Constitutional Court, with less than three weeks before the election.

Despite these judgments, the General Council of the Bar do not seem impressed by Zondi’s contribution to jurisprudence. In the GCB’s review ahead of Zondi’s interview for the Deputy President position, the GCB states that Zondi has “written relatively few reports judgments for a judge of nearly twenty years’ experience” and this means that “he is unlikely to be considered an outstanding leading jurist.”

Zondi also served two 2-year terms as a member of the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC), the key body of the judiciary’s disciplinary system. He has been involved in some controversial cases.

Zondi wrote the Judicial Conduct Appeal Committee’s majority decision which dismissed then Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s appeal against an earlier finding by the Judicial Conduct Committee. The JCC had found Mogoeng guilty of judicial misconduct and several breaches of the Code of Judicial Conduct for his comments on a webinar, where he criticized the South African government’s foreign policy toward the State of Israel. Zondi upheld the JCC’s guilty finding but amended the remedial order, instructing Mogoeng to issue a written public apology instead of the more humiliating apology in front of all the justices of the Constitutional Court.

Zondi was a member of the Black Lawyers Association (2001 – 2007), the Johannesburg Attorneys’ Association (1989 – 2007) and is a ‘friend’ of the SA Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges since 2019. Standing at nearly 2 metres tall, the lanky Zondi has been a member of the Uniting Presbyterian Church since 1980. His confirmation as SCA deputy president just shy of four years before his retirement will cap a long career in the South African judiciary.

Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal Interview | May 2024

In May 2024 Justice Zondo was interviewed by the JSC for the position of Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal. After deliberations the Judicial Service Commission will advise the President that Justice Zondi is suitable for appointment.

October 2022 Interviews

October 2022 JSC Interview of Judge Dumisani Zondi for the position of Chairperson of the Electoral Court. Judge Zondi‘s application was successful.