Chief Justice of South Africa

The Chief Justice of South Africa[1] is the most senior judge of the Constitutional Court and head of the judiciary of South Africa, who exercises final authority over the functioning and management of all the courts.

Chief Justice of South Africa
  • 10 other official names:
  • Hoofregter van Suid-Afrika (Afrikaans)
  • Ijaji eliKhulu weSewula Afrika (Southern Ndebele)
  • iJaji eyiNtloko waseMzantsi Afrika (Xhosa)
  • IJaji eliyiNhloko yaMajaji aseNingizimu Afrika (Zulu)
  • Lijaji Lelikhulu weleNingizimu Afrika (Swazi)
  • Moahlodimogolo wa Afrika Borwa (Northern Sotho)
  • Moahlodi e Moholo wa Afrika Borwa (Sotho)
  • Moatlhodimogolo wa Aforika Borwa (Tswana)
  • Muavanyisinkulu wa Afrika-Dzonga (Tsonga)
  • Muhaṱuli Muhulwane wa Afrika Tshipembe (Venda)
Raymond Zondo
since 1 April 2022
StyleThe Honourable
NominatorJudicial Service Commission
AppointerPresident of South Africa
Term length12 years
Inaugural holderLord de Villiers
DeputyDeputy Chief Justice of South Africa
WebsiteOffice of the Chief Justice

The position of Chief Justice was created upon the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, with the Chief Justice of the Cape Colony, Sir (John) Henry de Villiers (later created The 1st Baron de Villiers), being appointed the first Chief Justice of the newly created Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of South Africa.

Until 1961, the Chief Justice held a dormant commission as Officer Administering the Government, meaning that if the Governor-General died or was incapacitated the Chief Justice would exercise the powers and duties of the Governor-General. This commission was invoked in 1943 under N.J. de Wet, and in 1959 and 1961 under L.C. Steyn.

History and creation of the post

The position of Chief Justice as it stands today was created in 2001 by the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of South Africa, as an amalgamation of two previous high-ranking judicial positions of Chief Justice and President of the Constitutional Court. The Chief Justice therefore now presides over the Constitutional Court. The position of the presiding judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa, the successor court to the Appellate Division, was as a consequence renamed President of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

Chief Justice in a new era

At the time of South Africa's democratisation in the early 1990s, the position of Chief Justice was held by University of Cambridge graduate and Second World War veteran Michael Corbett. Corbett took office in 1989, succeeding Chief Justice P.J. Rabie, who had been scheduled to retire in 1986 at the statutory retirement age of 70, but had had his tenure in office extended on an ad hoc basis by State President P.W. Botha.[2]

However, with the fall of Apartheid imminent, the progressively-minded Corbett was eventually handed the job of Chief Justice in 1989. Although appointed by the National Party government, Corbett was generally well liked by those in South Africa's new African National Congress (ANC)-led government, and upon his retirement in 1996 was given a formal state banquet where President Mandela paid tribute to the Chief Justice's "passion for justice", "sensitivity to racial discrimination", "intellectual rigour" and "clarity of thought".[3]

The first Chief Justice to be appointed in post-apartheid South Africa was Ismail Mahomed, a leading South African jurist of Indian descent, who was selected to succeed Corbett in 1997 and eventually took office in 1998. Mahomed held the position until his death in 2000.

Under South Africa's Interim Constitution of 1993 and later the Final Constitution, the importance of the position of Chief Justice as the position of final judicial authority was temporarily relegated beneath that of the President of the newly created Constitutional Court. Ismail Mohammed had been tipped widely for the job of Constitutional Court President but in 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed leading human rights lawyer and director of the Legal Resources Centre Arthur Chaskalson to the position. In 2001, after Mohammed's death and, consequently, with the position of Chief Justice vacant, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution of South Africa fused the positions of Chief Justice and President of the Constitutional Court into one single job of Chief Justice. Chaskalson was subsequently appointed to the new post, although his tasks remained effectively the same.

Chief justices of Cape Colony


  • 1812 Sir Johannes Andries Truter (Vice-Admiralty Court)
  • 18271855 Sir John Wylde

*1828 Supreme Court established

  • 18551858 Sir Sidney Smith Bell (acting)
  • 18581868 Sir William Hodges
  • 18681874 Sir Sidney Smith Bell
  • 18741910 John de Villiers, 1st Baron de Villiers

Chief justices of Natal (1856–1910)

  • 18581874 Walter Harding
  • 18741890 Sir Henry Connor[5]
  • 18901901 Michael Henry Gallwey
  • 19011910 Sir Henry Bale (died 1910)

Chief justices of Orange Free State (1875–1919)

  • 18741888 Francis William Reitz
  • 18891900 Melius de Villiers
  • 19021919 Sir Andries Maasdorp (Orange River Colony)

Chief justices of Transvaal (1877-1910)

  • 1881 John Gilbert Kotzé
  • 1898 Reinhold Gregorowsky[6]
  • 19021910 James Rose Innes[7] (Transvaal Colony)

Chief justices of South Africa

  1. 19101914 The 1st Baron de Villiers
  2. 19141927 Sir James Rose Innes
  3. 19271929 Sir William Henry Solomon
  4. 19291932 Jacob de Villiers
  5. 19321936 Sir John Wessels
  6. 19361938 John Stephen Curlewis
  7. 19381939 James Stratford
  8. 19391943 Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet
  9. 19431950 Ernest Frederick Watermeyer
  10. 19501957 Albert van der Sandt Centlivres
  11. 19571959 Henry Allan Fagan
  12. 19591971 Lucas Cornelius Steyn
  13. 19711974 Newton Ogilvie Thompson
  14. 19741982 Frans Lourens Herman Rumpff
  15. 19821989 Pieter Jacobus Rabie
  16. 19891996 Michael Corbett
  17. 19982000 Ismail Mahomed
  18. 20012005 Arthur Chaskalson
  19. 20052009 Pius Langa
  20. 20092011 Sandile Ngcobo[8]
  21. 20112021 Mogoeng Mogoeng
  22. 2022 Ray Zondo

See also


  1. "Statement by President Zuma on the extension of Judge Ngcobo's Service". The Presidency. Government of South Africa. 3 June 2011. Archived from the original on 27 December 2011. Retrieved 11 July 2011.
  2. "Detectives and the Rule of Law - Solving Crime, the State of the SAPS Detective Service - Monograph No 31, 1998". Archived from the original on 2005-05-06. Retrieved 2005-06-26.
  3. "Pres Mandela at Banquet of Chief Justice Corbett". Archived from the original on 2004-12-15. Retrieved 2005-06-26.
  4. Zimmermann, Reinhart. Southern Cross: Civil Law and Common Law in South Africa.
  5. Zimmermann, Reinhart. Southern Cross: Civil Law and Common Law in South Africa. p. 110.
  6. Zimmermann, Reinhart. Southern Cross: Civil Law and Common Law in South Africa. p. 116.
  7. Zimmermann, Reinhart. Southern Cross: Civil Law and Common Law in South Africa. p. 116.
  8. "Zuma bids farewell to Ngcobo". Retrieved 2021-08-24.
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.