Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) president Judge Mandisa Maya faced some tough questions at her interview by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) for the Deputy Chief Justice (DCJ) position on Monday.
After deliberations, however, the JSC said that it would advise Ramaphosa that Maya is a suitable candidate for the position of DCJ.
Unlike in her interview in February – where she was one of four judges shortlisted for the Chief Justice position – which focused mainly on her gender, it was not the case on Monday.
Maya faced questions from how she ran the SCA to challenges in the judicial system and had to account for why it took long for the SCA to give judgments.
READ: Judicial Service Commission didn’t want Zondo
In March, following the interviews, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he had appointed Raymond Zondo as the new Chief Justice and had nominated Maya to be the next DCJ.
Maya accepted the nomination and is the only one whose name has been put forward to occupy the position that was previously held by Zondo.
Though questions of gender and whether South Africa was ready for a woman DCJ did not feature much in Maya’s interview, she was asked about gender equality in the judiciary.
Commissioner Narend Singh asked Maya what her thoughts were about the fact that Ramaphosa had filled vacancies in the Constitutional Court with male judges even though women were in the minority in that court.
READ: Mondli Makhanya | Zondo: Now for the hard part of keeping the barbarians in their place
“You are a gender activist, how do you feel towards transforming the judiciary in terms of gender activism?
And, as I said, I want to emphasise it’s the president’s prerogative to appoint people and he can accept or not accept the recommendations of the JSC or political party leaders.
But, how did you feel the second time around when a man was appointed by the president?” asked Singh.
After the February interviews, the JSC recommended Maya as the new Chief Justice but gave the job to Zondo.
Maya said the issue of gender equality in the judiciary was something that she was “deeply passionate” about.
In her interview in February, she had also presented challenges within the judiciary that did not favour women, such as a lack of maternity leave benefits and that there was no sexual harassment policy. Maya said:
“All I want to say is that, of course, we respect the president’s prerogative in making the appointments that he does, but there are constitutional imperatives that still need to be observed.
South Africa very disappointingly with all our lofty Constitution and all the fancy laws that ensure that equality and human dignity are achieved in our lifetime lags far behind many countries ... even in the continent, insofar as diversifying its judiciary is concerned. It’s worse when it comes to putting women in leadership positions.
“Gender equality is one of the key 2030 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) and there is a very good reason it is on that list of things that humanity must achieve sooner rather than later. Because no society will thrive if over half, since women tend to be in the majority in all societies, of its citizens are downtrodden. That is a scientific fact,” said Maya.
She added that as things stand, she is the only woman head of court in the country and that the replacement for outgoing judge president in North West Monica Leeuw had already been recommended to be a man. In April, the JSC recommended Judge Ronald Hendricks to be the next judge president in that province.
“So, I am now the only head of court. And this body has an opportunity today to change this dismal picture, at least insofar as this one vacancy is concerned. South Africa has never had a woman in its highest echelons, and I’m the furthest as the president of the SCA that women have come close to smelling what it is to actually just be in charge of your institution and be given an equal opportunity as your male counterparts to show your prowess, your skills.
“And once that is done, ensure that my successor, at the SCA, will be another woman so that we do not lose this momentum.”
Responding to a question by Zondo about her experience at the bar earlier on in the interview, Maya had shared that black lawyers, particularly women, were looked down upon and were not given work.
“It was not easy, and one is dismayed when we interview candidates here at the JSC who come from the bar and hear them still narrate experiences that are my experiences, things that happened to me all those years ago. Being a woman in the bar was and is still hard, as you all know. And, the main issue that I suppose is that those who have the work, who can brief counsel, do not have sufficient or any confidence in women.”
Maya added that she did her pupilage in the Johannesburg Bar and even though she did “extremely well”, she stood no chance of getting work and she saw that other black colleagues had left for the Bantustans because that was where they got work. She also left to go set up a practice in the former Transkei.
READ: Analysis | The reasons for Ramaphosa’s top-judge ruminations
“I remember you were called for an oral after the examination. And, I was called in by my master, mentors were called masters then. My master whispered in my ear that they were just curious to meet me because I was this young, black woman that … not many black women had been overseas at the time and attended an Ivy League university as I had. So, I was just asked two questions at that oral examination, a question similar to what you just asked me, to explain how I found America.”
Maya studied the Duke University in North Carolina, US. She said even in the Transkei, she struggled to get work and mostly got work from her friends.
She added that she did not get as much work as her male colleagues who got work from the state attorney and major banks.
Her practice only started picking up when her friend and colleague Judge Nambitha Dambuza, who was the instructing attorney for a local municipality, and all the major banks gave her work.
“That is how I survived. But it was not easy.”
Maya mentioned that by the time she left her practice to become an acting judge, she was starting to get big cases even from the state attorney.