Goliath vs Hlophe: Deputy claims Cape Judge President wanted judges ‘favourably disposed’ to Zuma on nuclear deal case

Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
Photo: Felix Dlangamandla

In a blistering complaint to the Judicial Service Commission, the deputy judge president (DJP) in the Western Cape has alleged that her boss, Judge President John Hlophe, wanted certain appointments in a nuclear case in which former president Jacob Zuma was a respondent.

Deputy Judge President Patricia Goliath claimed, in a 14-page affidavit, that Hlophe wanted judges who were perceived as "favourably disposed" to Zuma to preside over the so-called Earthlife Africa case involving the nuclear deal.

She said Hlophe told her criticism against the former president about the nuclear deal was "unwarranted".

"He attempted to influence me to allocate the matter to two judges he perceived to be favourably disposed to the former president," she said in the affidavit.

"I immediately dismissed the idea and referred him to a Daily Maverick article in which negative aspersions were cast on his allocation in another matter. Although unhappy, he did not pursue the matter and we agreed upon the two judges subsequently appointed to hear the matter."

She raised the issue when making the claim that the judge president (JP) accused her of not supporting him.

"I accept that on several occasions we had disagreements. I sought on those occasion[s] to uphold and protect the Constitution in keeping with my oath, especially when his conduct fell short of an acceptable standard."

READ MORE: Hlophe v Goliath: Scathing complaint lodged against Cape's most senior judge

In the Western Cape High Court in October 2015, Earthlife Africa and the Southern African Faith Communities' Environment Institute (Safcei) challenged government's decision to buy 9.6 GW of nuclear power without debating it in Parliament first, thus flouting democratic processes, Fin24 reported at the time.

The applicants argued in court papers that the government could not afford the mooted R1 trillion nuclear price tag, adding that it acted in secret when it signed an agreement with Russia as part of the procurement plans for a nuclear build programme.

The government, however, countered that South Africa needed nuclear energy as a form of base load power as coal-fired power stations were being phased out.

At the time, Zuma stated that nuclear energy would only be procured at a pace and scale the government could afford.

Not the first complaint

In 2017, Judge Lee Bozalek ruled that the government's attempts to secure the nuclear energy were unlawful, including the initial determination to procure nuclear energy in 2013, the co-operation agreements signed with Russia, the US and South Korea, as well as former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson's decision to hand over the procurement of nuclear energy to Eskom in 2016.

It is not the first time that a complaint has been raised about Hlophe.

News24 previously reported that it was alleged that he tried to influence Constitutional Court judges in a case involving Zuma.

A complaint was laid by the full Constitutional Court Bench after he allegedly approached justices Bess Nkabinde and Christopher Jafta to improperly influence them in a case before the apex court.

A tribunal was set up at the recommendation of a subcommittee of the Judicial Service Commission in 2013.

It has not yet commenced.

Goliath's claims were part of a larger complaint which includes allegations of verbal abuse, victimisation, preferential treatment of his wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, and even the physical assault of an unnamed subordinate.

But attorney Barnabas Xulu, who represents Hlophe and his wife, said the complaint contained gossip, rumours and information "obtained from the grapevine", adding that it brought disrepute to the court.

Xulu added that the complaint had "nothing to do with judicial misconduct but a series of gossips, rumour-mongering and information allegedly obtained from the grapevine".

According to him, the deputy judge president "obviously disagrees with the management of the division which is solely reserved for the JP".

Xulu said it was "well known" that because of this, tension existed between Goliath and Hlophe and that it was "unfortunate" that the complaint, "rather than raise legitimate issues that improve this performance, brings disrepute to the court".

Hlophe, he said, would "demonstrate at the right time, before the correct forum, that the complaint revealed a deeply worrying standard of judicial competence from a member of the Bench in the position of the DJP", adding that it would be unconstitutional for a judge president to allocate cases to judges in the division based on the date of their appointment.

Hlophe intended to show there is no merit to the complaint which, Xulu said, brought the administration of justice "into serious disrepute" based on irrelevant material and "vague and embarrassing" information.

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