Increasing access to justice for all South Africans
South Africa has established a number of institutions in the past 25 years to make justice across all levels more accessible to citizens.
This is according to Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa Raymond Zondo, who has been serving in this position since 2017.
He said the Constitution created certain structures, bodies or institutions to enhance the significance of the country’s justice system.
“I am talking in a broad sense and not only about the courts. These include institutions that deal with disputes, crime and other grievances,” the Deputy Chief Justice explained.
Institutions of justice
Since 1994, government has established a number of courts that were not there before, such as the Labour Court and Labour Appeal Court, whereas prior to the attainment of democracy, there was a tribunal or Industrial Court which was not a court of law – it was an administrative judicial tribunal.
“Presiding officers who sat in that court were not judges although they were legally qualified lawyers and professors,” he explained.
“Before 1994, there were still labour appeal courts, but they did not operate the same way as today. Today, we have three judges who sit in one court to hear matters whereas before 1994, there was only one judge who sat with assessors during the cases, and heard appeals that came from the then Industrial Court. Today in labour courts, we have judges who are at the same level as those in the High Court,” he added.
Post 1994, the scope of the Constitutional Court has also been broadened.
“It used to deal with constitutional matters only before 1994 but it is now able to address a lot of other issues as long as they are sufficiently important and they raise important questions of law,” said the Deputy Chief Justice.
The country also established the Competition Appeal Court as well as the Competition
Tribunal and the Competition Commission.
In addition to the courts, the country also has institutions such as the Office of the Public Protector which assists ordinary citizens who feel they have been wronged by the state or have other state-related complaints.
In addition, the South Africa Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) helps to protect and fight for the rights of citizens.
“We also have other structures that deal with corruption, such as the Special Investigating Unit and the Hawks, which seek to deal with specific sorts of crimes,” he said.
Despite having all these institutions, there are still people who are not able to find justice in various respects, often because they do not have the money to pay for lawyers, which is where Legal Aid South Africa steps in.
“Legal Aid South Africa has offices in various parts of the country and employs many lawyers who are able to offer litigation services to qualifying citizens without charging them because they are paid by the state,” he explained.
“All these institutions play a vital role in promoting justice in our society and they must be supported so that they can carry out their duties. All of them are important for making the justice system more accessible to the public,” he added.
Racial and gender representation
Deputy Chief Justice Zondo said much has been done to promote transformation in terms of racial and gender representation in the judiciary.
He said before 1994, and except for then independent Transkei and Bophuthatswana, there was no representation of African judges besides Justice Ismail Mohammed who became the chair of the Convention for a Democratic South Africa in 1991 and the country’s first non-white judge of the Supreme Court of South Africa. He was later appointed to the Appeal Court.
In terms of gender representation, Deputy Chief Justice Zondo said there was just one female judge before 1994 and she was a white woman.
“I cannot think of any black female judge who was appointed before 1994. But after 1994, our Constitution made it imperative that in appointing judges, the Judicial Service Commission would be required to make every effort to transform the judiciary in terms of race and gender, and we have come a long way towards achieving that goal.”
According to statistics he provided, out of 250 judges in superior courts, there are 69 African males, 46 African females, 16 coloured males, 11 coloured females, 13 Indian males, 11 Indian females, 55 white males and 29 white females.
“If you look at the race part of the transformation, we have 166 non-white judges. This shows that post-1994, we have more black judges than white judges in the country. In terms of gender, we have a total of 97 female judges in the country today.
“This shows that we have made progress in terms of racial and gender representation, however, we still have to do more on the gender part of it. We must continue to try to have more women appointed as judges,” he stressed.
Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture
Deputy Chief Justice Zondo is currently heading the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture.
Commenting on his role in the commission, the Deputy Chief Justice said he is focusing on doing the job he has been tasked with. “I am happy that I am able to play a role in that regard,” he added.
The commission has been tasked with uncovering corruption and state capture.
He is concerned that corruption has reached unacceptable levels in the country and believes that more needs to be done to turn things around.
The Deputy Chief Justice said once the commission has finished its work, it will have to make recommendations on what needs to be done to put an end to corruption.
“We hope to get as much input from society as possible because the issue of corruption is a huge problem for all of us, and we should all make an input in terms of what should be done to solve it.”
The commission is unfolding in full view of the public, with the proceedings being televised. Similarly, a number of court cases have been televised in recent times.
The Deputy Chief Justice finds the phenomenon of televising certain court proceedings to be helpful in a number of ways, one being that it is educative to society.
He said many people have no idea what happens in court, but when proceedings are televised, they learn a lot.
“We are seeing an increase in society’s interest in court proceedings and commissions. So I think it is a good thing, generally speaking,” he said.
About the Deputy Chief Justice
Deputy Chief Justice Zondo was born in Ixobho in KwaZulu-Natal and studied law at the University of Zululand, University of Natal (now University of KwaZulu-Natal) and later at the University of South Africa. He holds the following degrees:
• B.Iuris from University of Zululand
• LLB from University of Natal
• LLM (cum laude) in labour law from University of South Africa
• LLM with specialisation in commercial law from University of South Africa
• LLM (in patent law) from University of South Africa.
He started his career by serving part of his articles of clerkship under the late Victoria Mxenge in the latter’s law firm in Durban.
In 1994, he was appointed as a member of the Ministerial Task Team that was given the job of producing a draft Labour Relations Bill for post-apartheid South Africa.
In 1996, he was appointed as the first chairperson of the governing body of the Commission for the Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA).
In 1997, he was appointed as an acting judge of the Labour Court. With effect from 1 November 1997, he was appointed as a judge of the Labour Court.
In 1999, he was appointed as a judge of the then Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court (now the North Gauteng Division of the High Court) in Pretoria.
Later in the same year, he was appointed as Acting Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court and Labour Court.
In 2000, he was appointed as Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court and Labour Court for a 10-year term.
He returned to the North Gauteng Division of the High Court and resumed his duties as a judge of that court in 2010.
The following year, he was appointed as an acting judge of the Constitutional Court.
In 2012, he was appointed as a judge of the Constitutional Court.
In 2017, he was appointed as Deputy Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa.