Editorial: Justice Maya is an inspiration SA needs

Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya. Picture: Timothy Bernard/Independent Newspapers

Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya. Picture: Timothy Bernard/Independent Newspapers

Published Mar 7, 2024


The nomination of Deputy Chief Justice Mandisa Maya to replace the current Chief Justice Raymond Zondo should serve as an inspiration to the new generation of young female lawyers who wouldn’t dream of occupying the country’s top judicial position.

Though her nomination comes as no surprise, the possibility of the country having the first female chief justice underscores the great strides South Africa has made in bridging the gender gap.

It’s worth noting that Justice Maya was the preferred candidate for the top post by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) before President Cyril Ramaphosa overruled it and placed Justice Zondo at the helm of the judiciary.

That Ramaphosa now announced her nomination on the eve of a crucial election on May 29 is also something worth noting. It shouldn’t, however, overshadow this development.

The prospect of Justice Maya officially occupying the chief justice position as early as September, after Justice Zondo’s Constitutional Court stint comes to an end in August, presents an ideal opportunity for young girls of the rural Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo to dream.

Having to cross overflowing rivers, navigate through dangerous bush and walk kilometres to school are present-day challenges that do not have to define their paths.

Those children have a reason to draw inspiration from Justice Maya’s journey. She grew up in the small town of Tsolo in the Eastern Cape.

A quick glance at her professional and academic career shows why she is a highly decorated justice.

She holds BProc (University of Transkei), LLB (University of Natal), and LLM (Duke University, North Carolina, US) degrees as well as three LLD degrees (Honoraris) from the Universities of Fort Hare, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela respectively. Justice Maya was first appointed as a judge of the Eastern Cape High Court in 2000. She was the first black female judge president at the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), where her stint was marked by transforming that division.

It was also during her time at the SCA that she penned the first judgment in isiXhosa, despite English being the only language of record.

If this is the kind of chief justice that awaits South Africa, then the founding fathers and mothers of our Constitution must be smiling down on our nation.

Cape Times