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Chief Justice of South Africa

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)
Flag of South Africa.svg
Raymond Zondo.png
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 Chief Justice of South Africa 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.

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.

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".

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


*1828 Supreme Court established

Chief justices of Natal (1856–1910)

  • 1858–1874 Walter Harding
  • 1874–1890 Sir Henry Connor
  • 1890–1901 Michael Henry Gallwey
  • 1901–1910 Sir Henry Bale (died 1910)

Chief justices of Orange Free State (1875–1919)

Chief justices of Transvaal (1877-1910)

Chief justices of South Africa

  1. 1910–1914 The 1st Baron de Villiers
  2. 1914–1927 Sir James Rose Innes
  3. 1927–1929 Sir William Henry Solomon
  4. 1929–1932 Jacob de Villiers
  5. 1932–1936 Sir John Wessels
  6. 1936–1938 John Stephen Curlewis
  7. 1938–1939 James Stratford
  8. 1939–1943 Nicolaas Jacobus de Wet
  9. 1943–1950 Ernest Frederick Watermeyer
  10. 1950–1957 Albert van der Sandt Centlivres
  11. 1957–1959 Henry Allan Fagan
  12. 1959–1971 Lucas Cornelius Steyn
  13. 1971–1974 Newton Ogilvie Thompson
  14. 1974–1982 Frans Lourens Herman Rumpff
  15. 1982–1989 Pieter Jacobus Rabie
  16. 1989–1996 Michael Corbett
  17. 1998–2000 Ismail Mahomed
  18. 2001–2005 Arthur Chaskalson
  19. 2005–2009 Pius Langa
  20. 2009–2011 Sandile Ngcobo
  21. 2011–2021 Mogoeng Mogoeng
  22. 2022– Ray Zondo

See also

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