Johannesburg - Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng launched a veiled attack on the executive on Friday accusing it of interfering in the judiciary's independence.
He was addressing the Association of Regional Magistrates of Southern Africa's anniversary dinner in Benoni, east of Johannesburg.
"I was judge president when I was much younger and therefore I had the honour of working with a number of chief justices and I saw how chief justices were treated by a number of ministers and other functionaries within the justice department. It pained me."
Mogoeng said he could not understand how chief justices could allow people to mistreat them.
"Therefore when I look like a person who is bereft of diplomacy. When I look like a person who is rather too militant in issues which call for sobriety and diplomacy. When I look I'm immature when maturity is called for, know that my steps, my approach, my attitude is informed by the amazing abuse of diplomacy I have seen happening right before my eyes."
He said this had a profoundly negative impact on the judiciary.
The judiciary needed to take collective responsibility and things needed to be done differently.
"We ought to be worried when there is instability or a measure of insatiability in the executive... and in the legislative arm of government.
"But we ought to be terrified and deeply concerned when the judiciary does not appear to be what it was established to be. When there is a possibility, no matter how remote that the judiciary might be manipulated... then we have to be vigilant. Without independent judiciary democracy is doomed," he said.
Mogoeng referred to other African countries where the judiciary had been compromised.
He said South Africa should learn from Namibia which had passed legislation that separated the judiciary from the national executive.
This separation of power removed confusion about whether judiciary should listen to the minister or the chief justice.