Zuma elaborates on Ngcobo’s resignation

2011-07-27 14:48

President Jacob Zuma’s spokesperson Mac Maharaj says the president accepted Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo’s resignation because he did not want to see the image of highest office in the judiciary suffer.

Maharaj said Zuma did not regret the acrimonious way in which his office had handled the extension of the position of the head of the Constitutional Court.

A few weeks ago, Zuma convened a meeting a meeting with leaders of opposition parties and informed them of his decision to extend Ngcobo’s term.

This prompted a court challenged by Wits University’s Centre for Applied Legal Studies and other civil society groupings that challenged the constitutionality of Zuma’s decision.

“The president agrees that that matter becoming a dispute does affect (the chief justice’s office) and therefore it’s not a question of regretting or this or that. It’s a question of moving forward in the correct way, enhancing the status of the judiciary,” Maharaj said.

However, he defended the manner in which Zuma handled the matter saying he had followed precedent.

“The way the state went has been done before by previous presidents and it never went to court. So the president was acting in terms of the law and in terms of precedent. That some parties chose to go to court is always possible in a Constitutional state.

“But the way the matter has become a subject of dispute in the court has led to this current development. Always in a constitutional state there is room for parties to dispute constitutional issues,” he said.

Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe announced this afternoon that Ngcobo had informed Zuma of his decision and that Zuma had discussed it with his ministers at a special Cabinet meeting in the morning. Ngcobo leaves office after just 18 months in office.

Radebe said Zuma will find a replacement by the time the incumbent chief justice’s term of office expires on August 14.

“Chief Justice Ngcobo said he found it undesirable for a chief justice to be party in litigation involving the question of whether or not he should continue to hold office as this detracts from the intergrity of the office of the chief justice and the esteem with which it is held,” he said.

It is not clear whether the Parliamentary will continue with the process of crafting the law that will make it possible for a chief justice’s term of office to be extended.

Opposition political parties have reacted positively to Ngcobo’s withdrawal.

The DA’s justice spokesperson Dene Smuts said Ngcobo’s departure could have been prevented if “appropriate action” had been taken in time.

“(Ngcobo) is a true judicial leader, and the fact that he has withdrawn to protect the integrity of the bench proves it. We have lost someone who has the administrative, policy making and leadership skills we need for the new legal era…,” she said.

The IFP MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini said Ngcobo’s resignation was a tragedy that could have been averted.

He said Parliament’s Justice Committee should wait for the decision of the Constitutional Court – on Zuma’s decision to extend Ngcobo’s term – before it takes any further steps with regard to the new law.

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