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Chief Justice Raymond Zondo

Zondo-JSC-interview-images-with-logo 13.07.01

Capacity: Chief Justice
First appointed as judge: 1997 – Labour Court
Further appointments:
1999 – Judge, Gauteng High Court
2000 – Judge President, Labour Court
2012 – Constitutional Court
2017 – Deputy Chief Justice
2022 – Chief Justice

Gender: Male
Ethnicity: African
Date of Birth: May 1960
Qualifications: B.Iuris (UniZulu) LLB (UKZN) LLM (Labour Law cum laude)(Unisa) LLM (Commercial Law)(Unisa) LLM (Patent Law)(Unisa)

Key judgments:

Candidate Bio

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo is probably SA’s most recognised judge (after retired Chief Justice Mogoeng). As chairperson of the State Capture Commission (and, more recently, as Acting Chief Justice) his face has been beamed to television screens across the country almost daily for the last four years.

As the current “second in command” of the judiciary, it might seem the logical choice for Deputy Chief Justice Zondo to be the next Chief Justice. However, there are several reasons why this is not guaranteed, we discuss three.

First, it has not been the recent practice for the Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) to succeed the Chief Justice automatically. The two previous appointments as Chief Justice, Justices Ngcobo and Mogoeng, were appointed ahead of then Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. This may more than anything have been due to an extraordinary unwillingness to elevate Justice Moseneke to the position, rather than a principled decision not to appoint the DCJ.

Second, if DCJ Zondo were to be appointed chief justice, he would only have around 3 years of his 12-year tenure on the Constitutional Court remaining before he is forced to retire.   It might be felt that the new Chief Justice needs to spend a longer time in the job. Whilst past chief justices have served for a relatively short period (CJ Ngcobo for only two years, CJ Langa and CJ Chaskalson for only four), it could be argued that a new precedent has been set by Chief Justice Mogoeng, who served for 10 years as chief justice. A similar approach to that taken in the appointment of Justice Mogoeng would seem to count against the appointment of DCJ Zondo.

Third, DCJ Zondo’s role as the chair of the State Capture Commission may well have an impact on the political considerations of his appointment, although it is difficult to assess how this is likely to play out. Zondo has been praised by some as an unlikely hero in the fight against corruption and bad governance but he has also earned a mountain of detractors in the political realm, especially regarding the saga involving former President Jacob Zuma’s demand for Zondo’s recusal and his subsequent arrest and imprisonment for refusing to testify at the Zondo Commission. President Ramaphosa may therefore want to steer clear of anything that might count against him in the upcoming ANC elective conference.

DCJ Zondo is certainly an experienced jurist. He was first appointed as a judge of the Labour Court in 1997 and was Judge President of the Labour and Labour Appeals courts for a decade between 2000 – 2010. He has been a judge of the Constitutional Court since 2012 and was appointed as Deputy Chief Justice in 2017.

As a jurist, DCJ Zondo is regarded as one of the most influential figures in the development of South African labour law. In its submission on Zondo to the JSC, the General Council of the Bar, which represents advocates who appear before the courts daily, notes that “South African employment law jurisprudence is widely regarded as coherent and fair, and the candidate has played an enormous part in establishing and sustaining its reputation.” They go on to note several of Zondo’s judgments which stand out in their significance to the law. This includes the Modise v Steve’s Spar Blackheath case, where Zondo settled a long-standing dispute about the rights to procedural fairness of unprotected striking workers by finding that the principles of audi alteram partem (hearing the other side) applied in labour law and that a dismissal in a strike forms no general exception. They also note the NEHAWU v UCT case where Zondo set out the requirements for interpreting section 197 of the Labour Relations Act (which deals with the contractual rights of employees in the sale of a business as a going concern), and which has since been adopted as the standard test applicable in similar cases.

Zondo is one of the country’s most prolific judges, having written over 200 judgments during the span of his nearly three-decade career, and over 50 since he became a judge of the of the Constitutional Court in 2012. Zondo has written significant judgments in Democratic Alliance v African National Congress, where in a dissent from the majority of the court, he found that the DA had breached the Electoral Act by sending a bulk SMS following the release of the Public Protector’s “Nkandla” report stating that former President Zuma had stolen money “to build his R 264m home.”  In Minister of Home Affairs v Tsebe, Zondo upheld a decision by the high court to prevent the government from extraditing a murder accused to Botswana without receiving an assurance that the death penalty would not be implemented. Perhaps most famously, he wrote the Constitutional Court’s decision in the 2018 case of Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development v Prince, which allows cannabis to be used, possessed, or cultivated in a private place for personal consumption. DCJ Zondo has also shown himself to be independent minded by regularly writing dissenting judgments.

Having served as Judge President of the Labour Court and as Deputy Chief Justice, he has extensive judicial leadership experience. The General Council of the Bar, in its submission to the JSC on Zondo, notes that, as head of the Labour Court he was able to fill all vacant judges’ posts, including appointing a record number of women and black judges. At the end of his tenure, the Labour Court’s ten judges were made up seven black and three women judges. The Labour Appeal Court transformed from one consisting of only white male judges to one made up of eight black judges, two of whom were women. They further note that, at the start of Zondo’s tenure, there had never been a female judge of the LAC but he managed to attract women judges to act in that court, “some of whom have gone on to be appointed to the Constitutional Court and Supreme Court of Appeal.”

However, concerns have been raised about Zondo’s administrative abilities, especially the administration of the Labour Courts under his leadership. When Zondo was interviewed for a position at the Constitutional Court in May 2012, the GCB, in its submissions to the JSC, raised “concerns” about his performance as the head of the Labour Court, where it was widely felt that the then-Judge President had been lacking in the administrative skills to run a slick operation.

The GCB noted that during Zondo’s tenure as head of the Labour Courts, missing files were commonplace, as was “a somewhat chaotic and unreliable filing system” — described as “obstinate features” of that Court.

Zondo’s numerous delays in finalising the gigantic State Capture Commission report may also be pointed out as an example of his poor administrative skills. The civil society organisation CASAC (Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution) severely criticised Zondo in November 2021, with its executive secretary quoted as saying:

“It is deeply disappointing that there is an application for an extension [of the deadline to submit the State Capture Commission report]. This is the fourth one this year and sixth overall. It is cause for concern because it suggests that the planning for the finalisation of the report has not been tight as it should have been.”

Zondo also has experience in leading key institutions in the judiciary, including being the long-time Acting Chairperson of the Judicial Complaints Committee. Most recently, as acting chief justice, Zondo earned praise for how he ran the Judicial Service Commission interviews in a dignified yet rigorous manner. He has also been commended for speaking out strongly in fierce defence of the judiciary  when it came under attack by Tourism Minister (and ANC presidential hopeful) Lindiwe Sisulu.

Zondo has been the chancellor of his alma mater the University Zululand since 2018.

Asked what he regards as his most significant contribution to the law and the pursuit of justice, Zondo, in his nomination form submitted to the JSC says that:

“[T]he role I played as a member of the Ministerial Task Team which drafted the Labour Relations Act, 1995, my academic writings, as well as my judgments, which I believe, have contributed to the development of our jurisprudence, particularly in labour lar and, to some extent, administrative law.

I also regard… the contribution I made as Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court and Labour Court to the transformation of those two courts in terms of race.”

Zondo, who was born in 1960 in Ixopo, KwaZulu-Natal, holds a B.Juris degree from the University of Zululand and obtained his LLM from the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He also holds an LLM (cum laude) from the University of South Africa and another with a specialisation in commercial law. Before joining the bench in 1997, he practiced as an attorney at Mathe and Zondo Inc and previously with the doyenne Victoria Mxenge. He is married with four children, including famous cricket player Khaya Zondo.

Zondo’s appointment as chief justice would cap an illustrious career in the law. From a lawyer for anti-apartheid activist to one of the founding fathers of the SA’s democratic labour dispute resolution, and later as a judge and judicial leader, Zondo’s career has all the hallmarks of a thrilling lawyers’ biography.

February 2022 Chief Justice interview

April 2017 JSC interview

Interview synopsis: 

Justice Raymond Zondo’s interview for the Deputy-Chief Justice position started on a poignant note and, three-and-half hours later, ended on a ponderous one.

Zondo wiped a tear from his eye as he was asked by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to recall his impoverished childhood and the difficulties he overcame — an absent migrant labourer father,  the heavy expectation to support his family after completing school — to study law at university.

Describing how he approached a local businessman who agreed to support his mother and siblings with monthly food vouchers for groceries while he attended the University of Zululand, to be paid back when he obtained his degree three years later, Zondo’s voice turned tremulous when talking about the day he went to negotiate a repayment: “He said: ‘No, don’t worry, just do to others what I have done to you. I thought that was very important and in my own small way I have tried to do that.”

Zondo said without that kindness of strangers and the assistance of bursaries, “I would never have gone past primary school.” Later, when pressed for any advice he would give people who experienced similar socio-economic hardship, he said: “Don’t just sit there and do nothing and say you are poor, be proactive.”

The potential successor to Dikgang Moseneke was quizzed on a spectrum of issues, including the challenges at the Constitutional Court (the greater workload after the 2013 decision to make it the apex court in all matters), his thoughts on land restitution (most of which were avoided because of the potential for such issues coming before the Constitutional Court), what he had done to promote gender and race transformation in the judiciary (pinpointed and asked black and female lawyers to act at the Labour Court) and what he would bring, if appointed, to the entrenchment of judicial independence, and its protection against “state capture”.

In response to the last, Zondo said he and his colleagues “take our independence as judges very, very seriously, it is crucial for our democracy that we don’t take chances with that.” He added that it was not just up to judges to protect their independence but that it also depended on the “popular citizenry and how much they are prepared to fight for it to be maintained”.

Zondo probably experienced the hardest line of questioning from commissioner Julius Malema, the Economic Freedom Fighter’s member of parliament, who raised issues about the friendships the judge shared with both Mogoeng and ANC MP  Thoko Didiza, which went back to the 1980s. Malema suggested that his appointment would create the “perception” of a “broerskaap” at the JSC which ensured that “here are two friends running the most senior office at the Constitutional Court”.

Zondo said that was a “possibility”, but only a concern to the informed public if the friends lacked integrity or were corrupt — which he assured the commission he was not.

Malema also pushed Zondo as to why, if he was as concerned about gender transformation at the judiciary as he professed, he had not declined his nomination by President Jacob Zuma — especially since the appointment of his Constitutional Court colleague Bess Nkabinde as acting Deputy-Chief Justice, had been “one step forward” for female representation on the Bench.

Zondo, a stickler for legal formalism, said he would have considered such a decision if he was “privy” to the facts before the president when Zuma had made the decision to nominate him.

The interview drew to a close with public services minister, Faith Mthambi, sitting in place of justice minister Michael Masutha and perhaps drawing on her own challenges as political head of the South African Broadcasting Corporation during a period when it slumped into massive debt, unchecked by her, asked how he “would ensure you exercise prudent financial management” in the organising of the upcoming Congress of Constitutional Jurisdictions of Africa?

Zondo, who is chairperson of the organising committee for the conference to be hosted in South Africa later this month said he had a team, including “financial people” to ensure he didn’t run over budget or that malfeasance didn’t run rampant.


Read the full interview transcript: JSC Interview transcript – Judge Raymond Zondo