JUSTICE MANDISA MAYA: A Woman And A Worthy Judge!

JUSTICE MANDISA MAYA: A Woman And A Worthy Judge!

8 February 2022

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Saturday recommended that President Cyril Ramaphosa appoint the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) Judge President Mandisa Maya as the next Chief Justice of South Africa.

Maya is the only woman amongst four shortlisted candidates interviewed by the commission to be Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s successor after his term came to an end in October last year.

The Judge President of the Supreme Court of Appeal was competing against currently acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Constitutional Court Justice Mbuyiseni Madlanga and Gauteng Judge President Dunstan Mlambo.

In terms of section 176 (1) of the constitution, Constitutional Court judges can only serve a 12-year non-renewable term or until they reach the age of 70.  It depends on which one they reach first. The constitution also states that the term of office of Concourt judge can only be extended by an Act of Parliament.

If Maya is appointed by the President Ramaphosa she will not only complete her 12-year non renewable term, but her term will also end in the same year and a few week before she turns 70 in 2034.


But who is Justice Mandisa Maya?

Excerpts from Judges Matter articles Comments by: Cheryllyn Dudley – (former MP 1999 to 2019, Author of Through My Eyes and Dia LOGOS political analyst).

Supreme Court of Appeal president Mandisa Maya has been described by colleagues in the legal fraternity, as a diligent and hardworking jurist with an excellent grasp of the law and the progressive values of the Constitution: a judge who is sensitive to the contradictions in a society wracked by gender-based violence and socio-economic inequalities.

During her recent interview, with the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Maya said: “I’m not here simply because I am a woman. I’m a judge, and a worthy judge”.

The JSC, is constitutionally mandated to advise the President of the country regarding the appointment of the Chief Justice.  Once the President has consulted the JSC and Political Party Leaders, he or she then decides who they will appoint.  Having been asked by the President to interview four excellent candidates (this is unusual) the JSC has recommended that President Cyril Ramaphosa should appoint Justice Maya as South Africa’s next Chief Justice.

Justice Mandisa Maya, the only woman among the candidates for the Chief Justice position, is one of South Africa’s most senior judges, having first been appointed to the High Court in 2000 and now serving as the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal since 2017 – the first woman to do so.

Born in 1964 in Tsolo in the rural Eastern Cape, Maya holds a B.Proc from the then-University of Transkei (Unitra, now Walter Sisulu University), an LLB from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and an LLM in labour law from Duke University in the United States.

In the ‘80s, she worked as a court interpreter and prosecutor before joining the Women’s Legal Defence Fund in Washington DC. In the early ‘90s Maya did some work as a law advisor at the Department of Justice and a lecturer at Unitra. She worked as an investigator for the Independent Electoral Commission in 1994 and then practised as an advocate before acting as a high court judge from July 1999 to April 2000. She was permanently appointed to the high court in Mthatha in 2000 until 2005 when she was appointed to the SCA. The first black woman on that court.  Maya became deputy president of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2015 and president in 2017.

Maya has a solid track record as a leader in the judiciary, having had to deal with serious tensions between judges across racial and gender lines and allegations of bullying. She is credited with changing the SCA’s institutional culture for the better with more women judges appointed and the racial demographics more closely resembling that of the country.

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and SA went into lockdown in March 2020, Maya quickly moved to virtual hearings and effectively cleared the SCA’s workload for that term. Virtual hearings are now the default feature of the appeal court and will be for the foreseeable future.  She is also credited with fostering a culture of high performance and on average, the SCA hands down judgment within one month of the hearing and has consistently finalised more than 80% of its caseload in the last few years.

Having acted as a judge of the Constitutional Court in 2012, Maya is familiar with the inner workings of a court that, if she is appointed as chief justice, she will lead. Unlike her competitors for the position of Chief Justice, Maya would be able to serve a full 12 years, making implementing and, if necessary, revising the norms and standards of the judiciary as contemplated in section 165(6) of the Constitution a more likely prospect.

Maya has delivered several papers at international law conferences and was a USAid Fullbright scholar, a fellow of the Georgetown University Gender and Law Policy Programme and a Commonwealth Foundation Fellow.  Asked what she regards as her most significant contribution to the law and the pursuit of justice, Maya, in her nomination form submitted to the JSC says that:

“I believe that my experiences as a black woman from a rural background have provided the judiciary with a critical diversity of thought and valuable insights into a complex, vulnerable and huge component of our society.

I have over the years encouraged a number of women to make themselves available for judicial appointment and simultaneously nagged various heads of court to give women acting judicial appointments. I have also offered support to those colleagues once appointed as I believe mentorship of new judges is crucial in strengthening the judicial institution.

I have a deep respect for the rule of law, and I am committed to the values enshrined in our constitution. For this reason and a love for my country, I allowed myself to be persuaded to become a judge at a relatively young age of 35 years…I (and only a tiny handful of other judges) will have served as a judge for thirty-five years and dedicated most of my adult life to serving my country when I retire.”

If appointed Chief Justice, Maya would be the head of the large and complex institution which is South Africa’s ‘modern’ judiciary. The ‘modern’ Chief Justice must first be an intellectual leader, able to lead a Constitutional Court that deals with weighty and complex issues, and produce high-quality judgments that are both impactful on the law and are persuasive to both judges and lawyers. The Chief Justice needs a reputation of utmost integrity and ethical conduct, as they will need to foster ethics among judges and enforce the Judicial Code of Conduct.

As head of the judiciary the Chief Justice needs: excellent administrative skills; an independent mind, a commitment to the values of equality, dignity, freedom and human rights; to be a diplomat; to speak confidently; promote justice; enhance the reputation of the judiciary and affirm the Rule of Law. All of which Maya’s track record and judgements attest to.


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