By Carien du Plessis

Political Bureau

President Jacob Zuma has re-affirmed his commitment to an independent judiciary after announcing the appointment of Justice Sandile Ngcobo as chief justice.

"As the executive we respect without reservation the principle of judicial independence and the rule of law," Zuma told the small media contingent, a few staff members, and Ngcobo's family who had gathered at the presidential guest house in Pretoria to hear the announcement.

"An independent judiciary is one of the cornerstones of any democracy, and must be able to undertake its task without any interference from any section of our government or political leadership."

An announcement on the appointment of four other justices to the constitutional court was also expected, but, mindful of recent criticism, Zuma said he first had to consult with opposition parties about his choice.

Flanked by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, outgoing Chief Justice Pius Langa, and Justice Ngcobo, Zuma, who showed little sign of the cold he said he was suffering from, cautioned of the challenges lying ahead, like the transformation of the judiciary.

"The transformation of the judiciary will firstly ensure that even the poorest of the poor do enjoy access to justice. Secondly, that it is of a high standard, and finally that it is justice attained without undue delay."

Zuma expressed his faith in Ngcobo, who has been a judge for 13 years. He said Ngcobo's track record in the law "made us see a South African that will protect that which we hold very dear: the Constitution of our Republic and the rights of our people".

Zuma also said he was confident that Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke would assist Justice Ngcobo in undertaking his responsibilities.

Justice Moseneke was also considered to be a contender for the chief justice position.

In a short speech Justice Ngcobo thanked Zuma "for this honour that you have bestowed on me".

He promised to "do everything to the best of my ability to honour the high trust you have placed in me".

Justice Ngcobo said he was committed to the constitution and to upholding the law without any fear or favour.

Justice Langa said in reply to a question about the recent controversies surrounding the constitutional court that "I am confident that we have sailed through stormy waters and we have reached calmer waters".

Afterwards Zuma embraced Ngcobo and the group posed for pictures.

Justice Langa is due to retire on 11 October, and Justice Ngcobo will take up his office a day later.