Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has moved to play down speculation about why he has taken long leave before his term of office comes to an end.
The office of the chief justice announced on Wednesday that President Cyril Ramaphosa had appointed Justice Sisi Khampepe as acting chief justice while Mogoeng was on long leave.
Khampepe’s appointment is effective on May 1.
Having an acting chief justice is unprecedented.
The statement explained that, because of his involvement with the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo was not available to step into Mogoeng’s shoes.
Mogoeng’s leave of absence comes five months before his term presiding over the highest court in the land comes to an end in October.
The chief justice is currently appealing a judicial conduct committee’s finding of misconduct, for which he was ordered to apologise.
This follows his criticism of South Africa’s foreign policy on Israel.
On Thursday, his office outlined that regulation 3 of the Judges’ Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act, 2001, provides for judges to take leave of three and a half months for every period of four years’ actual service.
“This leave is referred to as long leave within the judiciary. The chief justice’s four-year cycle to take his long leave commenced on July 1 2018 but he was unable to take it due to his judicial and extrajudicial commitments.”
They added that judges’ leave was not cumulative and, therefore, had the chief justice not taken his leave, it would have been forfeited, as has happened on previous occasions.
“It is a normal practice in the judiciary for judges to take their leave whenever it is due. The chief justice’s long leave was due and he has duly taken it.”
The statement did not comment on the current public speculation about his motives for taking leave.
Social media statements had been circulating that Mogoeng was resigning because he did not want to be forced into the uncomfortable situation of signing an arrest warrant for former president Jacob Zuma.
This follows an application by the Zondo commission into state capture that Zuma be imprisoned for two years for breaching the Constitutional Court’s order to obey the commission’s summonses and testify before it.
The Constitutional Court has reserved judgment on the matter.