Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters
Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: Rogan Ward/Reuters

Judge questioned over lunch with Zuma and friendship with Gordhan during JSC interviews

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Apr 14, 2021

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Johannesburg - A lunch at former president Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead and accusations over a "top six" clique at the Supreme Court of Appeal dominated day two of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) attempts to fill vacant posts at the Constitutional Court.

The JSC will have to shortlist five candidates and submit the names to President Cyril Ramaphosa to make the final appointments.

On Tuesday, KwaZulu-Natal High Court Judge Dhayanithie Pillay faced a tough time during her interview over her key judgments.

Pillay, who is currently in an acting position at the Constitutional Court, had previously issued a judgment in 2019, in the defamation case between former president Jacob Zuma and former minister Derek Hanekom. Zuma lost the case.

The JSC has received three submissions from people who objected to her possible appointment to the Constitutional Court. The complainants cited her judgment on the Zuma/Hanekom defamation case.

The complaints also questioned her relationship with Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, and Hanekom.

Pillay dismissed accusations that she had a friendship with Hanekom. And on Gordhan, she said she knew him and they have a friendship that has "drifted" over the years.

"No, I am not friends with Mr Hanekom. I have known Mr Gordhan for many years and we were both activists," Pillay said.

Pillay said there was never any conflict of interest in the two cases she presided over which involved Zuma. The other case involved the corruption case against the former president.

"The calling of a judge is a very intense calling. It is very difficult to be true to the profession and the Constitution. The deviation is hugely disturbing," she said.

The judge's denial over a possible conflict of interest did not convince EFF leader Julius Malema. He pressed her on whether she does not see any problem with a judge being friends with a politician and if that could be described as "judicial capture".

Malema also questioned why Pillay had quoted Oliver Tambo, who was speaking at an ANC gathering, when she wrote her judgment on the Zuma/Hanekom defamation case.

"Is that not judicial capture? You care quoting Oliver Tambo, a political speech given during a political party gathering. I am going to argue in a closed session that you are nothing but a political activist, you are part of Gordhan's faction would I be correct to say that?

Pillay strongly disagreed with Malema's accusations.

While answering on a possible conflict of interest, Pillay said she had lunch at former president Zuma's Nkandla home, as part of her work as an IEC commissioner.

She said both litigants, Zuma and Hanekom, never raised objection to this information and she never saw a conflict of interest in presiding over the defamation case.

Pillay has been serving as High Court judge since 2000.

SCA Judge Rammaka Steven Mathopo was also interviewed. He was appointed to the SCA in 2015 and has served 18 months as an acting justice at the Constitutional Court.

Mathopo motivated why he was fit for the job, having worked in various legal streams and mentored other judges in his field. But discussions at his interview were dominated by questions of "top six" at the SCA.

The group has been accused of mistreating junior judges and concerns have been raised about the unpleasant culture at the SCA, at previous JSC interviews.

Mathopo did not mention the members of the top six by name but said they hold key positions of seniority at the appeal court.

He raised concerns about how some judges would speak to colleagues regarding matters.

He said it was "unfair and painful" to witness junior judges being subjected to unfair treatment.

Interviews continue on Wednesday.

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Political Bureau

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