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Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya: Leading the judiciary into its next chapter

Written by Editor

June 18, 2024

By Jessie Taylor

Expected to take the place of South Africa’s highest judge, Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya has earmarked a number of changes she would make to strengthen South Africa’s judicial system. The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has endorsed Deputy Chief Justice Maya as the next Chief Justice. The JSC is a body specially constituted to recommend persons for appointment to SA’s judiciary.

The presidential pick

In April, President Cyril Ramaphosa nominated Deputy Chief Justice Maya for the position of Chief Justice. The position will become vacant at the end of August, when Justice Raymond Zondo’s term ends. The appointment still has to be made by President Ramaphosa, but Deputy Chief Justice Maya is currently the only nominee he has put forward for the position.

Her appointment would come at a time when the judiciary is facing increasing workloads and reduced resources, and her role would include taking action to improve the administration of the courts and the functioning of the Constitutional Court. Deputy Chief Justice Maya has more than two decades of experience applying the law and was recently appointed Deputy Chief Justice of South Africa. She would be the first female Chief Justice once her appointment is finalised.

She was previously appointed to the High Court and then as President of the Supreme Court of Appeal – the first woman to do so. Deputy Chief Justice Maya  has served as a member of key institutions in the judiciary, such as the Judicial Service Commission and the SA Judicial Education Institute, since 2017. She also made history when she wrote the first recorded judgement of a superior court in South Africa in isiXhosa.

Deputy Chief Justice Maya is also active outside the judiciary. In 2021, she took on the role of chancellor of the University of Mpumalanga and was elected as the Regional Director for West and South Africa with the International Association of Women Judges. She has delivered several papers at international law conferences and was a USAid Fulbright scholar, a fellow of the Georgetown University Gender and Law Policy Programme and a Commonwealth Foundation Fellow.

Plans for change

During her interview with the JSC, Deputy Chief Justice Maya highlighted some of her concerns about the working of the Constitutional Court, saying she believed there are ways to streamline the court’s operations. According to Deputy Chief Justice Maya, the court received no less than 400 new applications for leave to appeal applications in a year, but they don’t set down more than 40 matters for hearing. She hoped to appoint panels of experienced judges and experienced senior lawyers who assist with matters placed before the justices.

Deputy Chief Justice Maya said she also hoped to appoint more judges in the court, should she be appointed. The court currently has a maximum of 11 judges, but she said it could accommodate 15 judges. During her interview, Deputy Chief Justice Maya added that she would also like to see the Special Court of Appeals attain full independence. Deputy Chief Justice Maya said another priority, should she be appointed as Chief Justice, would be to ensure safety at courts. She said there had been a number of reports of poorly maintained infrastructure at courts, including broken security features. She added that there had been reports of judges and judicial officers attacked in the courts of law.

Deputy Chief Justice Maya said that should she be promoted to the highest judicial post in the country, she will dedicate herself to ensuring that the judiciary remains strong and retains its integrity. She said that under her leadership, the judiciary will execute its role of protecting and promoting the Constitution to ensure that all citizens, especially especially the poor and most vulnerable, have access to justice.

Deputy Chief Justice Maya hopes to inspire stability and cohesion within the judiciary while also increasing public confidence in the judiciary.

“I am a strong proponent of inclusive and collaborative leadership, and I know that I have the soft skills to make everyone feel that they have a stake in this institution and that we all share the responsibility to make it work and deliver in its mandate,” she said.

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