Jacob Zuma: Chief Justice Controversy Brewing

Was Zuma's extension of Ngcobo's term unconstitutional?

Posted:
 
jacob20zuma
South African President Jacob Zuma (Getty)

The Mail & Guardian is reporting that constitutional expert Pierre de Vos is calling South African President Jacob Zuma's extension of Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo's term of office unconstitutional. Zuma recently extended Ngcobo's term for five years after being told it would expire at midnight on Aug. 14.

Zuma's extension was followed by a constitutional-court challenge brought by the Justice Alliance of SA, Freedom Under Law, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies and Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution.

Despite an urgent remedying bill being tabled in Parliament, the case was heard on July 18, but the court has yet to pronounce on the matter.

The applicants contended that Section 8(a) of the act was inconsistent with the constitution because Section 176(1) of the constitution provided for an Act of Parliament -- and only an Act of Parliament -- to extend the terms of office of any constitutional-court judge. They also said that the delegation of power by Parliament to the president was too wide and provided no guidelines for the exercise of the power.

Additional reasons included a distinction between extending the term of one constitutional-court judge as opposed to all judges and questioning whether the president was even empowered to make the offer.

Amid all of the controversy, on Wednesday, Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe announced that Ngcobo had withdrawn his decision to accept the extension of his term of office, and Zuma had accepted it. He did not think it was proper to accept the extension while the case was in litigation. You think?

All of this drama because President Zuma didn't confer with constituional advisers about his desire to make this extension? There is a reason for term limits, and they should be followed. As outgoing chief justice, Ngcobo should have known better, too. Since Zuma was going to have the opportunity to appoint his successor, we don't understand the need for the extension. The whole incident seems shady at best. Hopefully Zuma will keep in mind that he cannot make major changes without regard for the constitution when appointing a new chief justice.

Read more at the Mail & Guardian.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.