Zuma reassures opposition parties
Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma on Wednesday assured opposition political parties he will take their views into account in deciding on the appointment of a new chief justice.
"Please rest assured that I have not appointed a new chief justice, nor have I taken a final decision on whom to appoint as the new chief justice," he wrote in response to a letter sent to him on August 10 by the DA, Cope and the IFP.
He nonetheless reiterated his confidence in Justice Sandile Ngcobo as his "preferred candidate".
"In making my final decision, I will of course take into account any views the leaders of political parties may express about him," Zuma wrote.
The president came under fire from opposition parties after announcing at the National Press Club on August 6 that he had decided to "nominate" Ngcobo for the position being vacated by the retiring Justice Pius Langa.
At the time, DA leader Helen Zille warned of "profound consequences" of Zuma's contention that he made the decision "properly" and "objectively" and that he had "appointed a judge that I believe is capable".
Failure to consult with the National Assembly and Judicial Service Commission on the appointment lent itself to the abuse of power and undermined the separation of power between the executive and judiciary.
"... In practical terms, [it] runs the risk that the chief justice and those candidates eligible for the position of chief justice might act in a manner designed to find favour with the president," the opposition complained.
In his letter on Wednesday, Zuma pointed out that in his address to the press club he said the nomination of Ngcobo was "subject to advice from the [JSC] and leaders of political parties represented in the National Assembly".
Use of word 'appoint' was inadvertent
"The use of the word 'appoint' in response to a question from the media present, was inadvertent and does not change the fact that I had decided merely to nominate Justice Ngcobo to this position," Zuma explained.
"It is common cause that you first nominate, and then open the consultative process."
Zuma wrote that the Constitution did not preclude the president from proposing a name and that, in the past, the president had asked opposition parties for their views on a name.
After the announcement, opposition parties questioned why it had not been given to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who they considered the most suitable candidate.
The ACDP believed Moseneke had angered the ANC in stating, before the ruling party's Polokwane national conference, that the future of the country did not lie with delegates at the meeting - where Zuma won control of the ANC - but with the electorate.