After a full day of interviews, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) said it would not be recommending any of the candidates interviewed for judge president of the Eastern Cape High Court, after none of them got a majority of votes.

Four judges were interviewed, including the deputy judges president of the Bhisho and Mthatha courts, David van Zyl and Zamani Nhlangulela. The other candidates were Judges John Smith and Mandela Makaula.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng closely questioned them on what they would do, practically, to resolve the challenges faced by the division – the slow pace of cases through the court, judges who arrive after 11.00am (in the Mthatha court), reluctance amongst judges to implement case flow management systems, and the difficulties of uniting the provinces four courts into a single integrated division.

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Nhlangulela’s answers on this score apparently failed to impress, with Mogoeng saying a his answers included a “number of generalisations.
I expected you to be specific and practical,” said the chief justice.

He also admonished Nhlangulela for making light of of judges coming to court at 11 am, when he said he only had two eyes, not ten. “These are very serious things that affect the public; and you are making jokes about 10 eyes,” said Mogoeng. Nhlangulela immediately apologised.

Smith said his management experience came from years of running Smith Tabata, one of the biggest black law firms in SA. He spoke in detail about some of the challenges to implementing case flow management – when a judge takes control of a case and manages its progress to finality instead of its pace being set by litigants.

But Mogoeng wanted answers on the practical challenges at each of the courts in the province, and with the magistracy.

Smith also faced close questioning on whether it was white judges who were reluctant to implement case flow management, and where he had stood on the issue. He said at first most of the judges – black and white – were concerned about it, knowing nothing about it. He was later converted, he said, but there were “pockets” that were still resistant and these tended to be the white judges.

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It emerged that while case flow management was being fully implemented in the Bhisho and Mthatha courts, it was informally done in the Grahamstown court and not at all in Port Elizabeth.

Van Zyl was able to give detailed responses to questions on the challenges faced by the different courts. But – as the only white male candidate – the Eastern Cape Society of Advocates did not support him, saying he would not advance transformation in the province.

He was however strongly supported by the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and other black lawyers in the province.  Van Zyl readily acknowledged the importance of a race and gender representivity on the judiciary, and added that transformation was also about transforming the courts to bring justice to the people.

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Makaula was grilled at length about how long he had taken to deliver judgments, some outstanding for years. He said that this was a thing of the past and that he had taken to heart the ticking off he had gotten on this score the last time he had appeared before the JSC. But was then challenged by commissioner Lindi Nkosi-Thomas SC who referred to a recent judgment that was outstanding for five months.

He said in that particular case, he had had a tragedy in his family – his son had accidentally run over his child and the child had died. “It was painful … I was unable to function,” he said.