Mbuyiseli Madlanga. Picture: SOWETAN
Mbuyiseli Madlanga. Picture: SOWETAN

Franny Rabkin

CLOSING the chapter on a long and highly controversial race, President Jacob Zuma on Monday announced the appointment of Mbuyiseli Madlanga SC to the Constitutional Court.

The choice of Adv Madlanga was widely expected after the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) eliminated his main (some said his only) competition, renowned silk Jeremy Gauntlett, from the list of possible choices the president could make — a move that provoked a storm of criticism. In the run-up to the interviews, there had also been widespread criticism that no female candidates were nominated.

But once there were no female candidates, Adv Madlanga and Adv Gauntlett were always considered the front-runners.

Adv Madlanga was the only one of the five candidates interviewed to have acted on the Constitutional Court and had been a rising star in the judiciary, with an acting stint on the Supreme Court of Appeal, an acting stint as judge president on the Eastern Cape High Court and an appointment to the Competition Appeal Court — all in just five years on the bench as a high court judge.

As counsel, his practice was 60% focused on constitutional and administrative law and appeared in some ground-breaking cases in the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal.

During his JSC interview, he was charm itself and dealt deftly with potentially sticky spots such as his resignation from the bench in 2001 — something the JSC had frowned on previously.

He told the commission that it was well known at the time that he had resigned because he could not afford to stay on as a judge. He said he went to the bench very young and had a young family, a bond and six children. His circumstances had changed since then, he said.

Most recently, he has been in the news as chief evidence leader for the Marikana commission of inquiry — established to look into what led to the deaths of 44 people during an unprotected strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine in August last year, including the 34 that were gunned down by police on August 16.

Legal organisations welcomed the appointment. Ishmael Semenya SC, chairman of the General Council of the Bar, said Adv Madlanga would be an “invaluable addition to the intellectual resource of the bench” and Krish Govender, departing co-chairman of the Law Society of South Africa, said Adv Madlanga had wide experience as a judge and was highly respected.

Nokukhanya Jele, spokeswoman for the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, which had supported Adv Madlanga’s candidacy at the JSC, said the appointment was “excellent news” and that he would “do justice to that bench”.

"I congratulate Advocate Madlanga SC on this appointment and wish him all the best in this new role of promoting constitutional justice in our country," Mr Zuma was quoted as saying on Monday.

"We also acknowledge and thank all the highly capably candidates who were shortlisted for this position," he added.