Judge Zack Yacoob's Power Play Appointment Exposed

Published Feb 26, 2024


CHIEF Justice Raymond Zondo and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola may have committed a gross disservice to South Africans in the appointment of retired Judge Zak Yacoob to look at appeals in the Constitutional Court.

The appointment smacks of irregularity no matter how one looks at it, be it from a political alignment point of view, or a judicial decorum point of view, it simply spells irregular.

The Code of Judicial Conduct states, among others, that a judge must not become involved in any political controversy or activity unless it is necessary for the discharge of judicial office; use or lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.

Yacoob’s history of controversial incidents, including verbal altercations and alleged attempts to influence legal proceedings, raises concerns about his suitability for a role within the highest court of South Africa.

Instances such as his altercation with a journalist and his involvement in Cricket South Africa, where he reportedly threatened a journalist and clashed with the organisation’s acting chief executive, suggest a lack of temperament and professionalism that may not align with the expectations of a judicial role.

Yacoob further treated with contempt Shamila Surjoo, the former director of KwaZulu-Natal’s Blind & Deaf Society, calling her stupid and calling her lawyer idiotic. Not to mention that he used expletives towards Mathews Phosa, the former premier of Mpumalanga. At the time, Phosa was a member of the ANC National Executive Committee.

Furthermore, Yacoob’s previous conflicts and his close associations with political figures, notably Pravin Gordhan, raise questions about potential biases or conflicts of interest.

Judicial appointments, particularly to a prestigious institution such as the Constitutional Court, should be based solely on merit and impartiality, free from any perceived political influence or favouritism.

The lack of transparency surrounding Yacoob’s appointment process, including the absence of a public recruitment process and unclear criteria for selection, further undermines confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.

Judicial appointments are normally conducted through transparent and merit-based procedures to ensure the public’s trust in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Additionally, the role assigned to Yacoob within the Constitutional Court, involving advising sitting justices on which appeal cases to dismiss or entertain, raises concerns about the separation of powers and the proper functioning of the judiciary.

Yacoob boldly stated that former president Jacob Zuma would not get a fair hearing from him, and then on Wednesday, Zuma’s private prosecution bid against senior state advocate Billy Downer and journalist Karyn Maughan was dismissed by the Constitutional Court.

This is not to suggest that Yacoob really had anything to do with this ruling, but if the shoe fits...

While providing support services to manage the court’s workload may be necessary, retired justices should not be involved in substantive decision-making processes that could influence the outcome of cases.

The responses from Zondo’s office, while attempting to clarify Yacoob’s role, may not adequately address these concerns. The assertion that Yacoob and other retired justices are providing a support service to manage the court’s workload does not fully assuage fears about potential interference or bias in the judicial process.

Overall, the controversy surrounding Yacoob’s appointment to the Constitutional Court underscores the importance of transparent and accountable judicial appointment processes, as well as the need to uphold the principles of judicial independence and impartiality.

Without clear guidelines and oversight mechanisms, there is a risk of undermining public trust in the judiciary and the rule of law.

* The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.