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Judge Zamani Mzwasi Nhlangulela

Capacity: Judge
First appointed as judge: 1 January 2009 (Eastern Cape Hight Court, Mthatha)
Further appointment:  January 2016 (Deputy Judge President, Eastern Cape High Court)
Gender: Male
Ethnicity: African
Date of Birth: December 1960
Qualifications: BA  (Fort Hare) LLB (Natal, Durban) Cert. (Constitutional Litigation) (UNISA)

Key judgments:

Candidate biography | Updated October 2023

Judge Zamani Nhlangulela is the Deputy Judg6e President of the Eastern Cape High Court, Mthatha.

Nhangulela grew from humble beginnings in the uMlazi township of Durban and worked a stint as a labourer in a fabrics company. He would later study for Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Natal in 1988, before he joined Mthatha law firm Dzana Mafungo Inc as a candidate attorney in 1990, and as an associate attorney at Canca & Co until 1993.

From 1994 Nhlangulela joined the partnership Mjoli, Nhlangulela Mzi Inc, but would only stay a year before striking out on his own to establish Z.M. Nhlangulela Inc. He would stay there as a principal attorney director until his 2009 appointment as a judge.

As a judge Nhlangulela has written several important judgments, particularly in criminal law. In the reported judgment of State v Mapukata, Nhlangulela, sitting on review of a decision of the magistrates court, had to decide what sentence would be appropriate for a 69 year-old woman who was found in possession of 28 zols (rolled cigarettes) of dagga (marijuana) weighing what was initially described as 200 kilograms. After reviewing the personal circumstances of the accused (that she was pensioner) and that the dagga weighed  a miniscule 200 grams (not kilograms), Nhlangulela found that the sentence of 3 years’ direct imprisonment was too harsh and reduced to a fine of R3 000 or 3 months’ imprisonment, with a further sentence of dealing in the drug suspended for 5 years.

In 2016, Nhlangulela was appointed as deputy judge president of the Eastern Cape High Court, responsible for running the court’s Mthatha seat with its frighteningly high crime rate (three of the Top 10 police precincts are in the court’s jurisdiction, exceeding large cities like Bloemfontein or Gqeberha). The Black Lawyers’ Association and the Wild Coast Attorneys’ Association commend Nhlangulela for his leadership and management of the court. In one letter, NADEL praise Nhlangulela for the efficiency of the Mthatha High Court, which is “responsive to the needs of justice”.

Beginning in August 2022, Nhlangulela served four terms as an acting judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal until September 2023.

While at the SCA, Nhlangulela wrote the judgment in Maxwele Royal Family v Premier: Eastern Cape, a dispute over the appointment of the headman of the Maxwele Royal Family situated in Zimbane, in the greater Mthatha area. The Premier of the Eastern Cape had decided to appoint a headman different from the successor identified by the Royal Family and who had been the only son of the deceased headman. On review, the High Court held that, in terms of customary law, the premier’s substation was valid. However, on appeal, Nhlangulela held that such substation was not valid and set aside the high court order, appointing the correct heir instead.

Nhlangulela has a long and enduring relationship with the Mthatha community. He was a member of the Mthatha branch of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers from his entry into the legal profession in 1988 to his elevation to the bench in 2009. He was also a member of the Mthatha Business Chamber from 1994 to 2008.

While Nhlangulela is praised for his leadership as deputy judge president, his relative lack of experience in appellate courts and his paltry number of reported judgments stand as a serious obstacle to his further elevation to the Supreme Court of Appeal. It goes without saying that a judge who will review the judgments of courts below must have himself demonstrated an exceptional grasp of the law, court practice, and the discipline of judgment writing.

Asked in his JSC application form what his most significant contribution to the law and pursuit of justice Nhlangulela explains that he has given justice to all South Africans and,

“through keeping open the doors of the court, listening to people, adjudicating disputes as soon as possible, and delivering judgment due to them expeditiously”. He add that, “the oath of office I took on being appointed, and which I adhere to at all times, serves as guiding light to me and gives realistic home to the citizens alike that the benefits of law and justice will bring them closer to justice..”

October 2023 Interview:

Judge Zamani Nhlangulela’s October 2023 interview for a position on the Supreme Court of Appeal was unsuccessful. He was not nominated for appointment.

April 2017 Interview:

Interview Synopsis:

When Deputy Judge President Zamani Nhlangulela asked the Judicial Service Commission if he be allowed to “blow my own whistle” — as opposed to his horn — it summed up his interview.

Rather than the rich, textured sound of the trumpet, Nhlangulela’s “whistle-blowing” showed him up as a lightweight administrator who appeared to be struggling to deal with the problems in the Mthatha High Court. Someone who became shrilly defensive when questioned about what may be going wrong in his courts.

Nhlangulela said the problems at the court — which had been listed in detail by the previous candidate (see Makaula interview) — were not his alone, but a failure by the “system” and otherwise defended himself with answers characterised by generalisations and cliches. Something which appeared to irritate Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng who asked him to be more specific about the challenges that he faced as head of the Mthatha court and what remedies he had introduced since his elevation to that position six months ago.

More obfuscation, rather than elucidation, followed.

Nhlangulela said the major achievement in Mthatha had been that the judges “act in unison… without one lagging behind, the turnaround has been uniform”. He claimed the addressing of problems related to the court buildings as another achievement before Mogoeng scolded him for claiming something that was a department of public works project instigated by ministerial intervention following a visit by the Office of the Chief Justice.

He received another tongue-lashing when asked about a practise of judges only starting court at 11am. When he responded that he did not know of this — despite it being reported in the media — because he only has “two eyes, not ten” and that “I don’t know, if I am not told”, Mogoeng was not impressed.

The chief justice, raising his voice to match his rising irritation, said he was “very worried” that “you seem to be making light of a very serious thing that affects the public.” Nhlangulela apologised profusely and said judges were now starting court on time.