Joint Sitting to Bid Farewell to Chief Justice Pius Langa & to welcome Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo
Wednesday, 11 November 2009
WEDNESDAY, 11 NOVEMBER 2009
PROCEEDINGS AT JOINT SITTING
Members of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces assembled in the Chamber of the National Assembly at 14:00.
The Speaker of the National Assembly took the Chair and requested members to observe a moment of silence for prayers or meditation.
The SPEAKER OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
START OF DAY
CALLING OF A JOINT SITTING IN ORDER TO BID FAREWELL TO CHIEF JUSTICE PIUS LANGA, AND TO WELCOME CHIEF JUSTICE SANDILE NGCOBO
The SPEAKER: Hon members, the President has called a Joint Sitting of the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces in terms of section 42(5) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, read with Joint Rule 7(1)(b) of the Joint Rules of Parliament, in order to bid farewell to former Chief Justice Pius Langa and to welcome Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.
Hon members, it is important to note that we have today, represented in the House, the three branches of government, namely the executive, the judiciary and the legislature. They nevertheless work together to give effect to the constitutional provisions that underpin our democracy. The President, political parties and the two Chief Justices will participate in the Joint Sitting. I now call upon the hon President to address the Joint Sitting.
The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC: Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Mninwa Mahlangu, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, former Chief Justice Pius Langa, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo, hon members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour and a privilege for me to say a few words on this important occasion.
We gather here in this august House to bid farewell to Chief Justice Pius Langa and to welcome the new Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. [Applause.] It is rare that we have an opportunity for members of all three arms of government to address this House. This is an indication of the importance that we attach to this moment in the life of our democracy. It is also an indication of the critical role of the judiciary as a pillar of our constitutional order.
This occasion is also testimony to the high regard in which retiring Chief Justice Pius Langa is held. Justice Langa has served our country and its people for many years. He was one of the first 11 judges appointed by President Nelson Mandela to serve on the Constitutional Court when it was established. He has, therefore, been a vital part of the birth and development of constitutional jurisprudence in a democratic South Africa.
In all his time in the Constitutional Court, he has served our country and our people in an outstanding and remarkable manner, with dedication and commitment. [Applause.] It was because of his commitment and dedication that he was appointed as Chief Justice of the Republic and head of the Constitutional Court in June 2005, taking over from Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson. We applaud the exceptional contribution that Justice Langa has made to the Constitutional Court during his tenure as its head.
Today we are also paying tribute to Justice Langa for the role that he has played in the struggle for democracy in our country. For many years he has been a champion and defender of people’s rights. He represented many of our people in the courts of apartheid South Africa. His clients were the underprivileged, the marginalised, workers and people charged for political offences.
We especially remember his role as one of the progressive lawyers who fought for justice in the face of apartheid’s laws. He was a founding member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Nadel, and served as its president. He also participated in the major campaigns of the United Democratic Front and was part of the Release Mandela Campaign. Justice Langa was deeply involved in the process of negotiating the end of apartheid, participating in the work of Codesa and the Multiparty Negotiating Forum.
Justices, hon members, ladies and gentlemen, in a long and distinguished career, it is Justice Langa’s time at the helm of the Constitutional Court that will stand out for years to come. He inherited a vital state institution in a young democracy. He worked to ensure that justice was strengthened through the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court is today one of the most respected institutions in our country. Our people have confidence that it is able to rule on critical and controversial cases without fear, favour or prejudice.
Throughout his term of office, Justice Langa has ensured that the independence of the judiciary is not compromised. As he leaves the Constitutional Court, we thank him most sincerely for his exceptional contribution.
We know that Justice Langa leaves the court in the hands of another capable judge, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. [Applause.] We wish to take this opportunity to welcome Justice Ngcobo. [Applause.] We wish to thank him for taking on this huge responsibility. We believe that his credentials and his extensive experience will stand him in good stead for the tasks that lie ahead. Our judiciary is in good hands indeed.
Justice Ngcobo has an outstanding track record in defending the marginalised and in upholding human dignity and human rights. We are confident that he will oversee the application of justice in a fair and balanced manner. In this task, Justice Ngcobo is assisted by many capable colleagues, both in the Constitutional Court and in the judiciary more broadly.
As Justice Ngcobo assumes office, the country continues to face a number of challenges in its efforts to ensure access to justice for all. Our government must ensure that even the poorest of the poor have access to the courts, that they receive quality justice and that they attain relief speedily.
The issue of the transformation of the judiciary remains one of the central challenges that we must continue to address. We know that transformation is not an event, but a prolonged struggle. This struggle must further entrench the independence of the judiciary, for which so many of our people fought. This struggle must promote human rights, social justice and dignity for all.
This must be reflected in the manner that justice is dispensed. We must realise the right of equal access to justice for all South Africans, rich or poor, black or white, urban or rural, educated or illiterate. The task of the women and men on the bench is to ensure that the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law prevail at all times. In doing so, they can be assured of the support and co-operation of all South Africans. These are some of the issues that the courts have been grappling with in the past and will continue to tackle as we move forward.
Justices, hon members, ladies and gentlemen, before I finish, I would like to take this opportunity to applaud the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to declare July 18 “Nelson Mandela International Day”. [Applause.] The resolution, which was adopted by consensus, calls for commemorations every year, starting in 2010, to recognise Madiba’s contribution to resolving conflicts and promoting race relations, human rights and reconciliation. We wish to thank the countries of the world for responding favourably to the request we made at the UN General Assembly in September.
In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, I wish Justice Pius Langa a well-earned and restful retirement. [Applause.] I wish Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo a successful and productive tenure as the head of our judiciary. [Applause.]
As government, we are committed to working together with all components of the justice system to realise the rights contained in our Constitution. We are committed to safeguarding the independence and integrity of the judiciary.
Working together, we can achieve the cherished goal of justice and equal rights for all. I thank you. [Applause.]
The CHAIRPERSON OF THE NCOP / MC / END OF TAKE
The PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC
The CHAIRPERSON OF THE NCOP: Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu, hon President of the Republic of South Africa Mr J G Zuma, retired Chief Justice Pius Langa, Chief Justice of South Africa Sandile Ngcobo, members of the judiciary, provincial premiers and speakers, Members of Parliament, distinguished guests, it is an honour to participate in a debate to bid farewell to the retired Chief Justice of South Africa, P Langa, and to welcome the new Chief Justice of South Africa, Sandile Ngcobo.
The occasion serves as evidence that our democracy is maturing. Now we have a balance between the number of former and current judges of the Constitutional Court. Today, 11 November 2009, the number of former judges stands at 11, which is the same for the current ones. By any measure, we are indeed maturing. With such a balance, there is no doubt that the change of leadership at the Constitutional Court last month is going to be a simple one.
As we celebrate the leadership of the retired Chief Justice, Pius Langa, and welcome the new Chief Justice, Sandile Ngcobo, we appreciate the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of an independent judiciary in a democracy. We also reaffirm the notion that South Africa is a constitutional state. In terms of section 165 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, the judicial authority in our country is vested in the courts, which are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law.
In his paper entitled An Independent Judiciary: The Core of the Rule of Law, Justice F B William Kelly, a justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia in Canada, notes the evolution of the modern concept of judicial independence. He cites, amongst other things, an influential English philosopher, John Locke, who stated that established laws, with the right to appeal to independent judges, are essential to a civilised society, and that societies without them are still “in a state of nature”.
He further states that at the core of this and more modern concepts of traditional independence is the theory of separation of powers - that the judiciary should function independently of the legislative and executive arm of government. This is an important test for the judiciary in any democracy - whether judges are able to perform their duties for the good of our society without interference.
These principles are entrenched in the 1985 document of the United Nations on The Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary. This seminal document states that:
The judiciary shall decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interference, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.
The document further notes that:
The principle of the independence of a judiciary entitles and requires the judiciary to ensure that judicial proceedings are conducted fairly and that the rights of the parties are respected.
It goes further to state:
In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly; provided, however, that in exercising such rights, judges shall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of their office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
Since 1994, our judiciary has enjoyed the freedom to make decisions without outside influence. As we have observed, even when certain sections of society are not happy with the outcome of judicial processes, we have always expressed respect for the principle of judicial jurisprudence in a democracy. The judicial independence we are talking about does not, however, mean that the judiciary cannot work with other arms of state, which is why we have, for example, the Judicial Service Commission which comprises members of the executive and the legislature.
As a member of the JSC, I was humbled by the leadership that Justice Langa provided to this body. He had exceptional qualities and was impartial to the core. As a judge and later as the Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court, he displayed a great sense of commitment, honesty and high integrity - a judicial officer par excellence. We are confident that Justice Ngcobo will provide similar if not better leadership under new circumstances.
There are still challenges though with regard to transformation. One such challenge that still needs to be fully addressed regarding the transformation of the judiciary is the fact that women in general, and particularly black women, are few. Section 174(2) of our Constitution enjoins us to consider the need for the judiciary to reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa. This is very important, and I think this is an issue we need to attend to because it is a constitutional obligation. We can’t run away from it. [Applause.]
Another challenge that we have is the issue of access to justice itself, particularly the issue of the use of other languages in the courts. In many of our courts, proceedings are primarily conducted in English and Afrikaans. It is common knowledge that these are not easy issues to deal with in the first 15 years of our democracy, especially given the challenge of the triple oppression of women in the past and the marginalisation of indigenous languages.
Retired Chief Justice Langa’s view is that transformation envisages a society that will always be open to dialogue and contestation and guards against self-congratulatory complacency when it ceases to imagine that things could be better.
As we bid farewell to a man of the calibre and stature of the eminent Chief Justice Langa, it is befitting for Parliament to extend the same tribute to the other three judges who have retired with him. They are Justice Albie Sachs, Kate O’Regan, Yvonne Mokgoro and Tholakele Madala who retired last year. [Applause.] These are the founding judges of the Constitutional Court; we must not forget that. Their records speak for themselves. Parliament wishes all of them a long and happy retirement. I have never retired in my life; I don’t know how retirement feels.
During lunch I consulted with Justice Langa: after a few days he must share with me what it means to retire - whether you forget in the morning and take your briefcase, open the gate and go out thinking that you are going to work, and then when you are ten kilometres away you start remembering that, by the way, I’m retired. [Laughter.] I don’t know.
These judges have written the history of our country through transforming jurisprudence. We ought to be kind to them as they enter into retirement life as veterans of the law. I hope they will continue to assist and help some of us who would like to be like them. One day I would also like to be on the bench. Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Go well. Justice Ngcobo, we wish you well in your new job. Thank you very much [Applause.]
The LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION / NPM/MK(ZULU) / keh checked (Eng)
The CHAIRPERSON OF THE NCOP
The LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Hon Speaker, hon President, Chief Justice Langa and Chief Justice Ngcobo, it is with regret that this event has been tainted to a small degree by the controversies surrounding the appointment or nomination process of announcing Chief Justice Pius Langa’s successor. Nevertheless, I trust that we have all learnt some salutary lessons in this regard.
The people that we are honouring today are the custodians that hold the key to a prosperous and progressive South Africa. Our Constitution provides that the Bill of Rights applies to all law and binds the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and all organs of state. Our Constitution also provides that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.
Regarding the courts, our Constitution says that, in chapter 8, section 165:
(1) The judicial authority of the Republic is vested in the courts.
(2) The courts are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law, which they must apply impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice.
(3) No person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the courts.
(4) Organs of state, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, impartiality, dignity, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.
(5) An order or decision issued by a court binds all persons to whom and organs of state to which it applies.
This debate is therefore a most apposite occasion for this Parliament and the executive to recognise the quality of the judicial leadership represented here today, and to formally hand over the management and custody of the courts, with their constitutional obligations, to those in whose hands they should reside: the judiciary under the leadership of Chief Justice Ngcobo.
Our Constitutional Court is one of the most illustrious courts of the world. It ranks with the American Supreme Court, the House of Lords and the German Constitutional Court. Our erudite and esteemed judges’ judgments are read and quoted in these and many other courts around the world.
Since the inception of the democratic dispensation in our country, we have been blessed by having exceptional and wise judicial leadership: Chief Justices Mick Corbett, Ismail Mahomed, Arthur Chaskalson and Pius Langa. They have proven to be progressive and talented judges that we can be exceptionally proud of.
The appointment of Judge Sandile Ngcobo not only coincides with a new presidency in South Africa, but also with the departure of many other esteemed judges from the first Bench appointed by the venerable President Nelson Mandela. We are thus entering a new, challenging and exciting judicial era in which you, hon Ngcobo, will be expected to show the same, if not more impressive, leadership than your predecessors.
Judge Langa, your ascension through the ranks of the legal profession has been inspiring and embodies the essence of the open-opportunity society. [Applause.]
All the citizens of this country now know that one can overcome the most daunting obstacles, endure unimaginable personal suffering and sacrifice and yet progress from being a court messenger to a court interpreter, to the highest judicial office in the land. [Applause.]
Many of your thought-provoking judgments have embodied the ethos and spirit of our Constitution and its admired Bill of Rights. Your jurisprudence has not only ensured an inimitable domestic reputation, but an international one too, where you have served many foreign nations with distinction.
Judge Langa is a jurist of unimpeachable integrity and wisdom. Even in times of political tension, judicial turmoil and controversy, he retained his inherent and coherent dignity and was cool under fire. [Applause.] We are all indebted to him for his inordinate contribution to our society and democracy, for his professionalism and for his caring and compassionate spirit.
Siyabulela kakhulu bawo, ngegalelo lakho. [We thank you sir, for your contribution.] [Kwaqhwatywa.]
The incoming Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo is held in the highest regard. In addition to South African legal qualifications, he holds an LLM degree from Harvard University, where he was a Fulbright Scholar and a Harvard Law School Fellow. He also worked with the legendary Chief Justice of the third circuit Federal Court of Appeals in the United States of America, the late Justice Leon Higginbotham.
As a justice of the Constitutional Court, he delivered 44 judgments and in three of these he gave dissenting judgments. As such, he has contributed in no small measure to formative stages of South Africa’s exciting and innovative jurisprudence.
Judge Ngcobo, sir, you are faced with enormous challenges, chief of which is surely the transformation of the judiciary and legal system in South Africa. Transformation, however, is a complex issue and not merely one of numbers and race. It involves the independence and legitimacy of the judiciary, and the accessibility of the courts and justice to all the people of South Africa.
All these issues are interrelated and explained well by Lord Denning, who said:
Independence is all very well, but if it is not backed by justice, it turns obstinacy into recalcitrance, and as for impartiality, you can be impartial in distributing injustice as well as justice.
We have a rich and indeed, in a sense, an incomparable legal and jurisprudential heritage spanning more than 200 years in South Africa. This includes Roman Dutch law, English law and indigenous law. We rejoice in this wealth of legal diversity involving the idea of natural law, the wealth of English common and case law, and the inherent wisdom of indigenous law. The latter, with its underlying philosophy of ubuntu, in which Judge Ngcobo has displayed particular interest, needs to be developed and preserved for the benefit of future generations.
From the past we must take that which is good, noble and just and build the future jurisprudence on this, in accordance with the spirit and ethos of our Bill of Rights and its universal values. This will require the Wisdom of Solomon and a fierce determination not to be dictated to by anyone’s self-interest.
The example that you set will determine the success of the seminal role that the judiciary must play in the further unfolding of our democracy and attainment of social justice and human dignity for all people.
There has been an example of this, Chief Justice, in the Eastern Cape, where Judge Somyalo led through respect and integrity, and united a bench that has been notoriously divided. Unfortunately, in the Western Cape, we do not have that. Racial myopia, name-calling and lack of leadership have left an incoherent bench in the Western Cape, and these are issues that we have to look at fixing.
Therefore, Chief Justice Ngcobo, in this regard, the Constitutional Court, with you at its head, has a crucial role to play. And in the words of the great Roman bard Virgil: “Carpe diem!” We wish you well in this great quest in which you may not fail. Thank you. [Applause.]
Mr M E GEORGE
The LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
UMnu M E GEORGE: Ningakhala nithini, andiyi ndawo. [You may interject all you want, I am here to stay.] [Laughter.]
Hon Speaker, hon President, hon Deputy President, hon members, hon Chief Justice Langa and hon Chief Justice Ngcobo, in a democratic South Africa, the champions of justice are those who faithfully and unswervingly serve the Constitution. Today, in this Joint Sitting, in the presence of fellow justices from the Constitutional Court, the Labour Court and Land Claims Court, the Competition Appeal Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, the Judge Presidents from all divisions, we express our heartfelt appreciation to Chief Justice Pius Langa for his singular devotion to upholding the Constitution. For the judges of our land, the executive and the members of the legislature, there is no other master but the Constitution, and only the Constitution.
In life, people can make one of two choices: making a sacrifice for a noble cause or sacrificing that noble cause on the altar of expediency and its baser desires. In our world, society venerates the truth, and faithful judges, among their colleagues and peers, find sincere acknowledgement and deep respect. This is what is worth living for; all else is a sham.
When President Mandela paid tribute to Chief Justice Corbett in 1996, he identified the following fortes for every judge in South Africa to pass: “Passion for justice; sensitivity to racial discrimination; intellectual rigour; and clarity of thought.”
Chief Justices Mohamed and Chaskalson passed these tests with flying colours, and in our view, so has Chief Justice Pius Langa. He made shirts as a young man; now he is making history without creases or any soiling. It is very hard to be true to oneself, to one’s calling, to the struggle, to the people of the country and to the oath one takes. That is why, when exceptional people such as Chief Justice Langa remain true and unblemished, we take them to our hearts and prize their life’s worth. [Applause.]
You have done us proud, Chief Justice Langa. You protected our Constitution and therefore our freedom. For us in Cope, the defence of the Constitution merits the highest consideration and, therefore, we’ll unfalteringly place the highest premium on it and give the highest honour to those who will preserve its integrity. Even at the practical, down-to-earth level, you worked ...
The SPEAKER: Hon member, your speaking time has expired.
Mr M E GEORGE: I am sorry, Chair, I still had only to say good luck to Chief Justice Ngcobo. [Applause.]
Mr J H VAN DER MERWE / Nb/MC / END OF TAKE
Mr M E GEORGE
Mr J H VAN DER MERWE: Mr Speaker, I am deeply privileged to have served on the Judicial Service Commission for the past 13 years. In that capacity I served under the chairmanship of four chief justices: Chief Justice Ismail Mahomed, Arthur Chaskalson, Pius Langa and now Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.
Colleagues, you will understand when I say, to me as a lawyer, that is an unspeakable privilege. Each of the four chief justices had his own distinct style and I pay tribute to them. They had excellent humour, profound wisdom, judicial and personal independence an iron will and - this is important – determination to protect the independence of the judiciary, ideally endowed to lead the many thousands of lawyers in our country, judicial role models. I pay tribute to the former chief justices.
Aan regter Langa wil ek graag sê, u finale bydrae tot die regspleging het maar pas begin, want u het nou kosbare tyd tot u beskikking. U eretaak, regter Langa, is om u diepgaande wysheid en omvangryke regterlike ervaring met ons die regsgeleerdes van ons land te deel sodat die gehalte van ons regspleging nog hoër kan styg. Ons maak op u staat daarvoor. Maar ons wens u ook ’n welverdiende oudag toe met u kleinkinders, en regter Langa, u moet asseblief onthou, dit is u regterlike plig om u kleinkinders vreeslik baie te bederf! [Gelag.] U moet mooi loop.
Speaker, to Chief Justice Ngcobo, welcome in the judicial hot seat. I wanted to say the job is going to give you gray hair, but then I realised you are already grey. [Laughter.] You have already demonstrated your own distinct style, a very fine humorist, I must admit, but overall the ideal father of your judiciary, blessed with profound judicial wisdom as well as patience, which I have experienced with you, insight and compassion. Thank you for the judgement you gave for the government, but you granted us costs. Thank you for that. [Laughter.]
Chief Justice, I want to agree with the Chairperson of the NCOP, sitting right in front of me, about language. I think one of your primary challenges will be to ensure that the language of litigants in this country are respected and protected. We offer you our unconditional support and we wish you well.
In conclusion, I wish to say a few words in isiZulu ...
Mnu J H VAN DER MERWE: Somlomo, abehluleli bobabili bangamaZulu, ngakho ke ngifisa ukubingelela ngesiZulu nokubafisela ukhisimusi omuhle nonyaka onezibusiso. Bahlonoshwa, nginifisela impilo ende. Ngiyabonga. [Ihlombe.]
Mrs P DE LILLE
Mr J H VAN DER MERWE
Mrs P DE LILLE: Mr Speaker, hon President, Deputy President, Chief Justice Pius Langa and Chief Justice Ngcobo, it would be impossible for me to mention all your achievements, Chief Justice, internationally and nationally. I can only encourage you to write a book that we can have for future generations. However, what I can attest to is that you are a true son of the soil and that you have contributed immensely to the struggle against apartheid and to the development of our new democracy.
I would like to briefly mention just one of the judgments from your illustrious career: In the matter of Bhe and others v the Magistrate, Khayelitsha and others, Judge Langa declared the African customary laws relating to the inheritance of property unconstitutional, because they discriminated unfairly against women and illegitimate children and violated their rights to equality and human dignity.
This is just one of the many reported judgments that have helped to shape our new democracy. I would also like to say that I have, I think wisely, decided not to mention the judge’s record when it comes to the judgments that directly involve me in the Constitutional Court.
This is, Judge Langa, because, like you, I believe in the independence of the judiciary. I came to know the judge a lot better while serving on the Judicial Service Commission, JSC, and I would like to thank him for giving us the guidance we needed to achieve our goal of transforming the judiciary. I would also like to thank you for being so tolerant of me, because sometimes I behave as if I were in Parliament. [Interjections.]
Judge Langa, we wish you all the best for your retirement. We are very sad that your late wife Thandekile is not here to share this time with you, but I think all of South Africa will agree that this is a good time to thank Thandekile and your children for sharing you with us and the rest of the nation for all these years. [Applause.]
In closing, I would like to welcome Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. We will definitely be on your side to protect and promote the independence of the judiciary. I thank you. [Applause.]
Mr N M KGANYAGO
Mrs P DE LILLE
Mr N M KGANYAGO: Mr Speaker, President, Deputy President, Ministers, Deputy Ministers and members ... may I have a glass of water, because I am going to speak until my throat is very dry. [Laughter.]
Mr J H VAN DER MERWE: Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. My point of order is: Is this hon member allowed to use the name “Koos”? [Laughter.]
The SPEAKER: Continue, hon member.
Mr N M KGANYAGO: I am “Koos”.
The SPEAKER: Disregard the interruption.
Mr N M KGANYAGO: The UDM bids farewell to Chief Justice Langa. During his tenure, the judiciary went through a number of challenges. While Chief Justice Langa may have expected that the duties of office would be a heavy burden, he certainly could not have expected what storms would rage around the judiciary and the Constitutional Court.
Nonetheless, today we can look back on those events and pay tribute to the outgoing Chief Justice’s steady hand and steadfast principles. If not for his quiet determination and subtle approach, we may well have stood here today lamenting the destruction of the judiciary. Thank you, sir, calmness under duress is not a function of skill or intelligence, but rather springs directly from character.
We have been fortunate that in these trying times the Bench has been led by a man of character. Still, damage was done to the credibility of the judiciary and certain aspects of past fiascos are yet to be resolved. These issues will now be inherited by incoming Chief Justice Ngcobo.
The UDM welcomes the new Chief Justice. His credentials as a South African and jurist are impeccable. We wish him well and we are confident that he is thoroughly aware of the difficult path that lies before the judiciary. It is now his responsibility to lead the judiciary down that path. He will require every ounce of the courage, leadership and wisdom that he demonstrated earlier in his life.
Sepela gabotse. Re go tšolela mongatse. Re go amogela ka matsogo a mabedi, Mopresidente wa Kgorotsheko ya Molaotheo Ngcobo. Ke a leboga.
Dr C P MULDER
Mr N M KGANYAGO
Dr C P MULDER: Mr Speaker, the Bible says: For the judgment you pronounce you will be judged and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
On behalf of the FF Plus I wish to express our gratitude to Chief Justice Pius Langa for his courageous and unbiased implementation of the rule of law. He embodied the founding principles of our Constitution, which clearly states in section 165(2) that the courts are independent and are subject only to the Constitution and the law, and that it has to be applied impartially and without fear, favour or prejudice.
As you yourself said earlier this year, judges should have a think skin ... politicians should as well. I would add to this that more so should judges have a thick skin when unpopular decisions have to be taken. In defending the integrity of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary, you adhered to these principles and specifically to the principles in section 165(3) of the Constitution that no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the courts. You stood firm in the face of political criticism and personal attacks and protected the integrity of the judiciary. You did not allow one of the pillars of our democracy to be weakened, and we want to thank you for that.
Namens die VF Plus, dankie vir die uitspraak oor die buitelandse stem. Ek dink ons moes gewen het, en baie dankie daarvoor asook vir die kostebevel wat u aan die regte kant gegee het.
Namens die VF Plus wil ek ook van die geleentheid gebruik maak om regter Sandile Ngcobo geluk te wens met sy aanstelling as Hoofregter. U erf ’n nalatenskap van u voorganger wat baie hoë standaarde stel, spesifiek sover dit gaan oor die onafhanklikheid van die howe.
We hope that South Africa will experience your dedication to the advancement of justice for all and the protection of human rights, not only through the leadership you will have to display, but also through the steps you take to put the Constitution first. This you will have to do without regard to yourself and the criticism you may have to endure.
In conclusion, I want to address both judges when I quote Enid Bagnold who said, ”Judges don’t age; time decorates them.”
Dankie vir alles en baie mooi loop. [Applous.]
Mr T E CHAANE / NP(Eng)/SlR (Afr)/NPM (IsiZulu)/MK(ZULU)/ END OF TAKE
Dr C P MULDER
Mr T E CHAANE: Hon Speaker and hon Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, your Excellencies President Jacob Zuma and Deputy President Motlanthe, Justices of the Constitutional Court and other members of the judiciary, hon Ministers and Deputy Ministers, hon premiers, hon members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen ...
... ha e ne e le ka sehaeso o ne o tshwanetse ha Mopresidente a se a buile ebe ke ema mona ke boloka nako ke re feela “le dumme!” ke ntano dula fatshe, empa ka hore ke morongwa ...
... let me start by saying today is a happy day. It marks the end of a long relay marathon of freedom and the beginning of a new journey. We are gathered here today to pay tribute to one of our own and witness as he passes the baton to another son of the soil. It all started from humble beginnings when, at the age of 17, a young man from Bushbuckridge became a T-shirt maker at a T-shirt factory in 1956. Driven by determination and commitment, the fact that he could not finish his schooling years was never a curse or deterrent. Through private studies, he equipped himself with the necessary skills and knowledge for the tough journey ahead. From being a messenger in the Justice department, the sky was the limit, and there was no point of return.
He mingled his way through the “snakes ladder” of the legal fraternity to the highest court in the land in 2005. That achievement, to those who clearly understand the difficulties he had to go through in reaching the top, the sufferings he endured along the way, added to the many miracles that our country is renowned for in the world. That young man has grown old today, and he is amongst us as I speak, and he is none other than Chief Justice Pius Langa. [Applause.]
Hon Speaker, allow me to be direct and say: Chief Justice Langa, throughout your life you demonstrated high levels of commitment and determination, driven by a selfless God-given talent, to serve with honesty and integrity. You were a pillar of hope to the hopeless, a pillar of strength to the weak, a saviour to the oppressed, a voice of reason to the voiceless and to the reasonless, the giver of hope to those whose views were suppressed, an advocate and defender of those whose rights were violated, a messenger and deliverer of good news to those who were robbed of their livelihood, criminalised and terrorised in their land of birth. You laid a strong and solid foundation for transformation in the judiciary. You always emphasised the fact that judges should lead as exemplary examples and display the traditional values expected of judges, those being integrity and impartiality.
In the midst of high tensions and flaring tempers, when patience wore thin and intolerance about slow transformation and allegations of racism, bias and impartiality in the judiciary crept in and took centre stage of public debates, you became a good example of how judges should behave. You provided leadership even during such trying times. In your own impartial way, you kept your eyes on the ball and refused to be influenced to act in a manner detrimental to the independence of the judiciary. You never feared anything, for as the son of a reverent God, you knew that the Lord has given us a spirit not of fear but of power, love and self-control.
You fearlessly and tirelessly continued to give proper authoritative judgments. In your own way you continued to lead, reprove, rebuke, and to exhort with complete patience and teaching. Against all odds, you held your head high and refused to be distracted from your mission, and you championed the cause of our struggle for total emancipation of our people from all forms of oppression. You steered the ship to safe waters amidst heavy and denying turbulence.
All these praise songs are not just because you are one of our own, because the many honorary awards you received for the advancement of justice by various reputable organisations - honorary doctorate degrees bestowed upon you by reputable universities - both in the country and abroad, attest to these views.
I make special mention of one of the many such awards: the Order of the Supreme Counsellor of the Baobab: Gold, bestowed upon you by the President of the Republic of South Africa. As you begin a new journey and cruise through to retirement, it is only fair and befitting that we thank God for your life. It is even more befitting and relevant that I borrow some words of wisdom from the scriptural readings of Paul and say: Hon Justice Langa, you have run the race. You have fought a good fight. [Ditsheho.] You have finished the race. You have kept the faith.
Ha se bohle ntate ba qetang lebelo. Ba bang ba wa, ba bang ba se ba hloma mekhukhunyana ka thoko. [Laughter.]
Henceforth, there is laid up for you a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to you on that day and not only you but also to all who have loved His appearing.
Hon Speaker, may I take this opportunity to conclude by wishing Chief Justice Langa well, as he eases the pace and enters retirement. As we bid him farewell from the active life of legal eagles, we welcome as our new Chief Justice, taking over the baton from Justice Langa, another super eagle in the legal fraternity, Chief Justice Ngcobo. [Applause.]
To him, I wish to say that the foundation is laid and you are our hope to run this race with the integrity and impartiality expected of a judge. It is my wish that you fast-track the process of transformation in the judiciary. With the support you will get from all and sundry, victory is certain.
Your appointment as Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court is by no means a reward or favour but recognition of your academic qualifications and standing, a vote of confidence and demonstration of trust in your capabilities. God bless you. Thank you, sir. [Applause.]
Mrs C DUDLEY / M.L.//Mia / END OF TAKE
Mr T E CHAANE
Mrs C DUDLEY: Speaker, hon President, Deputy President, the ACDP shares the sentiments expressed by other speakers in paying tribute to former Chief Justice Pius Langa for his dedicated 15 years on the constitutional Bench and for his leadership of the judiciary during a period of turmoil.
We also say farewell to Justices Kate O’Regan, Yvonne Mokgoro and Albie Sachs. The Constitutional Court has developed an impressive body of jurisprudence and precedents during the former Chief Justice’s tenure, maintaining its independence whilst still showing respect for the executive and Parliament.
It has also had to grapple with issues that rocked it to the core, such as having to lodge complaints against the Western Cape Judge President. Even closer to home, the former Chief Justice’s commitment to constitutionalism and multiparty democracy was illustrated when, under his guidance, the court agreed to hear an ACDP urgent application after hours and provided urgent relief enabling us to contest the local government elections in Cape Town in 2006. We join others today in honouring you, sir, and wishing you well in your retirement.
We also welcome the new Chief Justice, Justice Ngcobo, who has exceptionally broad legal experience gained here and in the United States of America. In many respects, the judiciary and its public reputation are facing very serious challenges, particularly following ethical lapses and questionable conduct by some judges. Judicial legitimacy is grounded in the perception of fairness, impartiality and trust - which takes years to build.
There are also serious issues relating to transformation as well as institutional and administrative challenges, which include making justice accessible to the most vulnerable.
We appreciate the fact that the Chief Justice views being a judge as a higher calling. He will no doubt need the wisdom of Solomon as he seeks to meet these challenges.
The ACDP has no doubt that considering his track record, the new Chief Justice will lead the judiciary in a manner that not only preserves its independence, but also restores its reputation in the eyes of the broader public. I thank you. [Applause.]
Mrs I C DITSHETELO
Mrs C DUDLEY
Mrs I C DITSHETELO: Mr Speaker, hard work and dedication have played a big role in Chief Justice Langa’s success. His dignity, intelligence and dedication spurred President Mbeki to select him to take over from Chief Justice Chaskalson when he stepped down.
The UCDP hereby wishes Chief Justice Langa everything of the best for the future. We hope that he will enjoy his deserved rest with his family and loved ones, and we thank his family for allowing him to be of service to his country. Your golden footprints are forever embedded in our nation.
To the new Chief Justice: the baton in the relay will be handed over to you, and the soil has been well prepared. Yours is to plant the seed. Welcome and good luck. We wish you everything of the best in your position. Thank you. [Applause.]
Mr R B BHOOLA
Mrs I C DITSHETELO
Mr R B BHOOLA: Hon Speaker, hon President and Deputy President, hon Pius Langa and hon Sandile Ngcobo, we are indeed proud of our Bench, and particularly of outgoing hon Chief Justice Pius Langa for continuing with the very high standard that was set by his predecessor. It is a pity that, because of the unfortunate history, both the retiring and incoming Chief Justices were not able to serve before 1994.
To the hon Chief Justice Pius Langa we say: We are proud of you for being fair, courageous and independent. Your committed dedication in serving all South Africans undoubtedly makes you a wonderful person, a remarkable individual and an astounding personality. The pivotal role you played in bringing about equality and justice for all, in spite of it being your duty and responsibility, you played with professionalism and indeed admiration.
To you, Chief Justice Pius Langa, a beautiful life is built daily on peace, rest, goodwill and humility. The MF prays that this beautiful life belongs to you.
When we look at the CV of incoming Chief Justice Ngcobo, we are overjoyed at his impeccable record. True leaders indeed add value to society, and we have no doubt whatsoever that Justice Sandile Ngcobo will be equal to the task. The entire country can relax now that our judiciary, at the highest level, is in very good and safe hands.
We are indeed proud that KwaZulu-Natal, our province, has produced great – I repeat, great – legal minds. [Laughter.] The MF takes this opportunity to congratulate Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and wish him overwhelming success. May God bless you! [Applause.]
Mr M A MANGENA
Mr R B BHOOLA
Mr M A MANGENA: Mr Speaker, hon members, society respects and accepts court judgments not because they are always right, but because society assumes the integrity, honesty and fair-mindedness of the judges and other court officials. Therefore, the appearance, deportment and dignity of judges are important elements of the administration of justice in any society.
Apart from a little wobble in the recent past, in which judges were involved in an unseemly public spat – and we hope and trust that it will not happen again – our judiciary still commands immense respect and support from our society.
The fact that many in our country turn to the courts for the adjudication of their disputes is evidence of the confidence they have in the judicial system. The Constitutional Court in particular is looked upon with awe and pride. This is priceless, for a lack of confidence in the justice system in any country leads to anarchy, chaos and extrajudicial settlement of disputes.
The two Justices in our midst today played a huge role in dispensing justice in our country and in maintaining the integrity and efficacy of our courts. We thank Mr Justice Langa for his distinguished service to our country and we wish Chief Justice Ngcobo strength and fortitude as he assumes his new responsibilities. We hope that under his watch, the judiciary will continue to enjoy the confidence of all our people.
Mr Justice Langa, sir, may you now go fishing with the blessing and love of all of us. Thank you. [Applause.]
Mr N T GODI
Mr M A MANGENA
Mr N T GODI: Mr Speaker, Comrade President, comrades and hon members, the APC joins the House in bidding farewell to outgoing Chief Justice Pius Langa and in welcoming his successor Chief Justice Sandile Ngqobo.
Justice Langa, it was in this House that we welcomed you as Chief Justice, and here we are today bidding you farewell. It is our conviction as the APC that you have held your office with distinction and dignity. Our judiciary matured and withered storms under your stewardship. It was your guiding hand that ensured that our democratic institutions stood the test of time.
A lot has been achieved under your leadership to entrench and advance within the judiciary the values enshrined in our Constitution. The APC thanks you for that.
Hamba uye kuphumla nawe, mfo kaLanga; kudala uzabalaza.
As the baton is passed to Chief Justice Ngqobo, the APC wishes to emphasise that the transformation of the judiciary is necessary, urgent and non-negotiable. Transformation should not only mean bean-counting, but a fundamental change in the ideology that guides the judiciary.
The justice system, in its practice and content, must not be foreign to the majority in this country. Why must a Shangaan-speaking magistrate, prosecutor, accused and witness be addressed in English in a 100% Shangaan-speaking area? [Applause.] I’m sure we have all read Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s book, Decolonising the Mind.
Chief Justice Ngqobo, I’m sure you’ll agree with the APC ...
Hon MEMBERS: Ngcobo!
Mr N T GODI: Ngcobo? Oh yes. I’m sure you’ll agree with the APC that there is a need to enhance access to justice by all, especially for the poor and rural folks. Justice must be decommodified.
The APC would like to see a people-centred judiciary that protects the vulnerable in a system that functions properly. The APC wishes you well, Chief Justice Ngcobo. The struggle continues. [Applause.]
Mr N A RAMATLHLODI /MC / END OF TAKE
Mr N T GODI
Mr N A RAMATLHODI: Hon Speaker, Your Excellency the President and Your Excellency the Deputy President, it is indeed a great honour and rare privilege for me to take part in this august debate, on the occasion of bidding farewell to our former Chief Justice Pius Langa. The ANC is taking this opportunity to thank you most sincerely, and with boundless pride, for a sterling and priceless job well done.
As a country, we owe you and your two predecessors, former Chief Justice Chaskalson and the late Chief Justice Mahomed, tons of gratitude. Like you, Chief Justice Langa, our late Chief Justice Mahomed stood out as affirmation of the fact that black people, given equal opportunity, are capable of carrying out some of the most difficult and complex tasks with an astonishing degree of success.
We take pride in the fact that you have affirmed us as worthy citizens who can be entrusted with the future of the country, without someone having to spend sleepless nights wondering whether tomorrow the sun will rise again or not.
Yours might be a single footprint in a vast desert, but in historic terms it represents a giant leap forward in collective efforts to build our nascent democracy into a formidable and proud member of the community of nations. For this, we are deeply indebted to you, sir, and to the galaxy of Constitutional Court justices who have served the country in your hallowed company.
These men and women have left an indelible mark on the jurisprudence of a democratic South Africa. We acknowledge the sterling contribution to the nation-building project by the justices you were privileged to captain.
As was to be expected in a transition, there have been extremely uncomfortable moments when it looked like we were heading for a constitutional crisis in our country. At the hour of madness, the political landscape was coloured by a rising tide of uncertainty, principally as a result of fierce contestation within the ruling party, my party the ANC.
In that same hour, it must be said, we were wrestling with a festering sore that had to be opened up so that we could move forward. Each birth has its own pains, or to each birth its blood. Happily, those dark and bleak days have come to pass.
Chief Justice Langa, you steered your ship with tremendous courage and fortitude, as a good judge would do. The verdict is that you leave a judiciary where the centre is holding, in spite of the many challenges we still have to overcome. A solid foundation has been laid. The baton is passed on to our new Chief Justice, Chief Justice Ngcobo. In Sepedi we would call you “Nnobo”, because we can’t say Ngcobo.
Allow me to take this opportunity to join millions of my fellow citizens in conveying our heartfelt congratulations to Chief Justice Ngcobo on his elevation to the highest judicial office in the land. Our expectations are high. Our hope is even firmer that under your stewardship, the judiciary will witness the opening of new and bright horizons and ever-expanding frontiers in the never-ending journey of transformation.
In this regard, the goal must be nothing less than the creation of a people’s judiciary, as envisaged under our Constitution. The judiciary must be broadly representative of the community it serves, so instructs our Constitution. This is not a plea which some of us have the latitude to either ignore or implement, depending on the mood of the day. In judicial language, the requirement for the judiciary to be broadly representative is peremptory. This provision is not in the Constitution by accident; it is there in order to redress the historic exclusion of black people and women from the judiciary in our country.
In transforming the judiciary, we must ensure that black people - Africans in particular - and women are appointed to the Bench without hesitation. [Applause.] Where there are technical deficiencies, it is our collective obligation to expand the training programmes already in place, as well as to introduce new programmes.
The position of acting judges may have to be more regularised so that deserving candidates are not missed by the system. Another area meriting attention is the possible exclusion of possible candidates on the basis of language. Our Constitution, in this regard, recognises 11 languages, in case we need reminding.
It is not enough, though, for the judiciary to be broadly representative. We must, in addition to changing the form, perhaps more importantly, ensure change of mind-set. In this regard, we have to accommodate the moral values and ethos as practised by the majority of South Africans in this country. For example, the “reasonable man” in the law of contracts should not be confined to the “reasonable man” of the London Stock Exchange. This “reasonable man” could also be one who believes in a verbal contract, as they do in Segole, the small village where I come from.
To achieve the envisaged paradigm shift, it is suggested that sitting judicial officers may need to attend courses studying other cultures in order to fully understand the nature of the people they seek to serve. I rest my case. [Applause.]
The CHIEF JUSTICE P LANGA / nb/MC / END OF TAKE
Mr N A RAMATLHODI
The CHIEF JUSTICE P LANGA: Hon Speaker, hon Chair of the National Council of Provinces, Your Excellency the President, Your Excellency the Deputy President, hon members, members of the judiciary that I see are present, Chief Justice, leaders of the courts sitting up there, heads of courts, ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique occasion. To my recollection, apart from those occasions when the Chief Justice performs functions prescribed by the Constitution, members of the third arm of the state, the judiciary, in South Africa, have never addressed a Joint Sitting of the Houses of Parliament. [Applause.]
Today, the three arms of the state gather and participate together, not to give expression to the usual function of checking upon one another and balancing conduct and activities, but rather to acknowledge one another. It is a positive development, because all three are critically important to our democracy. Although they have separate roles, they are complementary and not mutually destructive.
I thank the President of the Republic of South Africa for requesting this Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament and for his kind words on the occasion of my retirement. My thanks also go to the Speaker of the National Assembly and to the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces for making this occasion possible. I’m also grateful to the representatives of political parties for what they have said and the sentiments they have expressed.
I have worked with some of them in various forums and can testify to the fact that I have always received courteous and willing co-operation, support and respect from them. I mention in particular the Judicial Service Commission, which I have had the privilege of chairing since the year 2005.
Of course, I have encountered others in my previous life as a legal practitioner, and I’ve seen them go to jail and ... [Laughter.] ... and, fortunately, I’ve also seen them come out of jail ... [Laughter.] ... and become hon members of this House.
I have had a wonderful relationship with all the Ministers of Justice and Constitutional Development. It has been a relationship of mutual respect, courtesy and co-operation. I thank them for their unceasing encouragement and support. The current Minister, Jeff Radebe, has been a tower of strength, always looking for ways and means to make my work and that of all judicial officers not only manageable, but also pleasant.
I worked in the Constitutional Court. The Deputy Chief Justice, Justice, Justice Dikgang Moseneke, together with the other judges of the Constitutional Court, have been veritable towers of strength. They, together with those colleagues who are retiring with me, have given me immense support in my functioning ... [Applause.] ... as Chief Justice of this country. Each one of them has always been exceptionally collegiate, helpful and burden-sharing. I could not have asked for a better team to work with.
The foundations were laid during the pioneering days, first by Chief Justice Mick Corbett; then by Chief Justice Ismail Mahomed and during the incumbency of my predecessor, Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the former President of the Constitutional Court and later Chief Justice of South Africa. They stood firm, and I’m grateful to all of them, in particular to my predecessor, former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson - a great South African in his own right - for laying the groundwork ... [Applause.] ... of this great institution.
An important institution of the judiciary is that of the heads of courts, that is the President of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Deputy President of the SCA, as well as all the judge presidents and their deputies in all the divisions and special courts. We have worked well, and I thank them.
I would like to pay tribute to them for their industry, co-operation and support; to pay tribute to the entire magistracy, which is actually at the cutting edge of the legal system in South Africa; and to the legal profession and everyone else who has touched my life and my work in the administration of justice. I thank them all and would like each one of them to know how appreciative I am of the cordiality of our relationship.
Of course, I thank my family as well, who has given me the inspiration to trudge along these few years, first as a judge of the Constitutional Court and lately as Chief Justice of this country. Without the inspiration and support they gave me, I would not have been able to do anything or to last the distance. [Applause.]
Let me extend my thanks to the people of South Africa for having afforded me the opportunity to serve as a judge of the Constitutional Court from October 1994 to October 2009. It is a period of 15 years, a momentous period in my life and that of my family. I have been richly rewarded through all these years. It is not possible to tabulate and rank all of these rewards, but it is safe to mention that they include the following: Seeing my country and my nation emerge victorious from the bondage of apartheid ... [Applause.] ... to be counted among the free nations of the world; the setting up of democratic structures, namely Parliament, the courts, chapter 9 institutions and other institutions; and the fact that in spite of numerous challenges, these institutions have not only survived, but are functioning. I also add the vibrancy of organs of civil society, and so on.
I have enjoyed the comradeship of many of my fellow South Africans and members of the international community who believe, as I do, that one task and responsibility that cleaves to the very essence of the soul of this nation is, as the preamble to the Constitution says, to:
Heal the divisions of the past and to establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
I have subscribed, and will continue to proudly and assiduously subscribe, to these ideals and to uphold the foundational values of equality and human dignity and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, and to nonracialism, nonsexism and the supremacy of the Constitution and the rule of law.
As I leave centre stage as Chief Justice of South Africa and look for other work ... [Laughter.] I mentioned that this is a position I’ve been immensely honoured and privileged to serve in. I’m acutely aware that the work I’ve tried to do on the Bench, together with my colleagues, is far from done. There is a long way to go - still. As long as poverty, homelessness, disease and illiteracy ravage our people and are still features of the lives of many, existing side by side with those who are privileged and who have everything before them, our job - yours and mine - will not have been accomplished.
In conclusion, I take this opportunity to congratulate my colleague, Justice Sandile Ngcobo, the new Chief Justice of South Africa, on his appointment to this position. I have no doubt that he will receive all the necessary support and co-operation to carry out the onerous responsibilities entrusted to him, in particular in presiding over the Constitutional Court and in leading the entire judiciary of this country. It is still very much a time of transition, requiring the gifts of wisdom, diligence and diplomacy. I have no doubt that he will prove equal to the challenges that lie ahead. I wish him all the best. I thank you. [Applause.]
The SPEAKER: We thank the honourable Chief Justice Pius Langa. It is my pleasure and honour now to invite Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo to address the House. Chief Justice ... [Applause.]
The CHIEF JUSTICE S NGCOBO / UNH/MC / END OF TAKE
CHIEF JUSTICE P LANGA
CHIEF JUSTICE S NGCOBO: Mr Speaker, one of the fundamental principles that underlie my judicial philosophy is respect for other branches of government, which means you must never intrude into the domain of other branches of government.
Look at where I am today! [Applause.] I have intruded into the domain of Parliament. But it is an intrusion which is mandated by the Constitution.
Hon Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, hon Mr President Msholozi, hon Deputy President, Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and Deputy Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, former Chief Justice Langa, hon Ministers, Deputy Ministers and premiers present, my colleagues in the judiciary, hon members, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for the kind words of welcome, Mr President and members of this House. I consider myself especially privileged to receive this historic welcome as the new Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, and also to be present today to say farewell to my distinguished colleague Justice Pius Langa.
Justice Langa’s service to the nation and to the judiciary is justly respected and I hope that my own service will match the tradition of excellence that my predecessors have established.
Let me begin by expressing my deepest appreciation to you, Mr President, for appointing me Chief Justice. I am indeed humbled by the confidence you have shown in me, and I shall strive to the best of my ability to be worthy of that trust. Of course, reaching this position has been a product of a long journey through life. So many people have helped me along the way. I would not be standing before you today without the unseen support of my family, my friends, teachers, mentors, and my colleagues in the judiciary. I owe them all a tremendous debt. I regret, though, that some to whom I owe so much, particularly my parents, have not lived to witness this occasion.
The recognition of the contribution of others to my appointment reinforces my view, however, that the judiciary’s role must always be characterised by a certain humility. Judges, after all, are servants of the law, and not the other way round.
The Office of the Chief Justice is a great honour, but it carries with it a huge responsibility. Judicial humility is particularly important in South Africa. We are still very much a nation in transition. Our Constitution is the bridge that carries us from the injustices of the past to a society based on democratic values and fundamental human rights that is our future and, increasingly, our present.
Our judiciary has been given wide powers to uphold our constitutional democracy and bring the law into line with our new Constitution. In exercising these powers, our courts must appreciate the role of other branches of government in our constitutional democracy. They must also recognise the difficulties inherent in governing a country with a history such as ours, stained by injustice, where resources are limited and the demands are huge.
Judges must ensure that other branches of government play by the rules, but they, too, must observe the vital limits on their power. They are bound by the Constitution and the principle of the separation of powers. Above all, judges must remain vigilant to the fact that the breadth of judicial power must always be matched by the real depth of judicial responsibility.
Like our nation, our courts have accomplished much over the past 15 years. However, our justice system faces serious challenges. Perhaps the first challenge is the improvement of access to justice. Section 34 of the Constitution enshrines the right of access to courts, yet the cost of litigation and the complexity of legal procedures deter many potential litigants, particularly those who most need and deserve the protection of the justice system.
In a constitutional democracy, founded on the rule of law and the protection of human rights, everyone must be able to have his or her day in court, not just those with the resources to hire expensive counsel, to pay mounting court fees and to bear the escalating costs of litigation that may last for years.
A closely related challenge is improvement in the efficiency of the administration of justice. Justice may be denied when parties wait for months or even years to be assigned a trial date or an appeal hearing, or to have judgment handed down. Justice may also be denied when the fragmentation of our court system means that like cases are not always decided alike.
Ultimately, we must have a court system that is more efficient and more rationally structured. The transformation of a judiciary dominated by minority ward to one that reflects the beautiful diversity of our nation is another challenge. We have made significant progress, yet great distances remain to be traversed.
There is also the challenge of managing the tensions between the judiciary and the other branches of government. Tension is natural, and even desirable. After all, it stems from the vital yet differing constitutional roles assigned to each branch. Too much tension, however, threatens the ability of each to do its duty. Courts may end up thwarting the legitimate political goals of the executive and the legislature, and, by the same token, unbridled legislative and executive criticism can weaken public confidence in the judiciary.
Together these challenges contribute to another challenge, which is fundamental, which is the maintenance of public confidence in the judiciary. Without confidence in the ability of the courts to dispense justice, there can be no faith in the rule of law, and without faith in the rule of law valuable relationships of trust within society begin to break down. Citizens can no longer be assured that their rights can be protected. Businesses can no longer be assured that their contracts will be honoured. Victims of crime can no longer be assured that justice will be served in court. And so, ultimately, courts must not only be independent and effective, they must also be seen to be independent and effective.
As Chief Justice I am responsible for providing leadership to the judiciary as a whole. In that capacity I shall be spending the next few weeks consulting with my fellow members of the judiciary, to better understand the challenges that I have just described. That consultation will help to develop a programme of action to address these challenges.
That programme of action, in turn, will be informed by my vision of the judiciary, which is underpinned by the following fundamental principles: The judicial system must function efficiently; the justice system should be accessible to all; judicial integrity is crucial to the delivery of justice; there must be a healthy constitutional dialogue among the branches of government, consistent with the principle of the separation of powers; and there must be transformation of the judiciary and the legal system consistent with the demands of our Constitution.
I expect to devote all my energy and every moment of my tenure to give effect to this vision.
I am mindful of the enormous task that lies ahead. Indeed, I am mindful of the many and difficult challenges that face our courts. Yet, I am also aware of the capability of my colleagues in the judiciary, and I am also aware that the President and the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and all Members of Parliament share my deep commitment to a strong and healthy democracy. That is why I am confident that together we will rise up and meet the many and difficult challenges that face our courts and thereby preserve for the next generation a judicial system that promotes the rule of law, promotes and protects the rights of all, and dispenses justice to the strong and the weak alike.
Mr Speaker, thank you so much for this very warm welcome which I have received in this House. Thank you so much. [Applause.]
The SPEAKER: We thank the honourable Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.
The MINISTER OF JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT /JE/END OF TAKE
CHIEF JUSTICE S NGCOBO
The MINISTER OF JUSTICE AND CONSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: Mr Speaker, Mr President, Mr Deputy President, Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Chief Justice Ngcobo, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, former Chief Justice Pius Langa, President of the Supreme Court of Appeal Mr Justice Mphathi, judge presidents and other judges present, fellow Members of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen, it is an honour for me to address this Joint Sitting of the two Houses of Parliament since our country transcended from apartheid to democratic rule 15 years ago today. It is also an honour to bid farewell to Chief Justice Pius Langa and to welcome Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo as the fifth Chief Justice since the dawn of a democratic South Africa.
It is remarkable that the change of guard in the judiciary occurs during the same year in which the Fourth Parliament was inaugurated. This brings immediately into sharp focus the need to emphasise the common understanding of the separation of powers without the debilitating effects of the overlaps that might have occurred had one arm of the state attained incumbency earlier than the other. Had there been overlaps between the dawn of the Fourth Parliament and the changing of the guard in the judiciary, the residual effects of one over the other could have lingered and the relationships going forward would have been characterised by one arm trying to assert its space over the other.
In this, we are one with Montesquieu who proclaimed, many centuries ago, the sanctity of the separation of powers, when he aptly observed, and I quote:
Were the executive power not to have a right of restraining the encroachments of the legislative body, the latter would have become despotic; for as it might arrogate to itself what authority it pleased, it would soon destroy all the other powers.
As the judicial guard changes, we reiterate, as government, this noble sentiment and further recommit to the upholding of the ideals of the separation of powers.
Members will recall that the era of the former Chief Justice Ismail Mahomed ushered in a transition from parliamentary sovereignty to the supremacy of the Constitution. Under the leadership of Chief Justice Chaskalson, and later Chief Justice Langa, the Constitutional Court established itself as the fortress of our constitutional jurisprudence.
The judgments of the Constitutional Court, as our apex court, not only constitute legal precedence for all our courts in this great republic, but also provide a treasure trove of points of reference of many judgments of the courts in other world democracies. This was acknowledged by over 63 judiciaries who attended the first World Conference on Constitutional Justice, held in South Africa in January 2009.
The attributes and accolades showered on former Chief Justice Langa by his colleagues, chief justices across the globe, at this conference and by our own President Jacob Zuma today, in this august House, signify the immense contribution that Justice Langa has made in the transformation of our judiciary and society at large.
I have personally known Chief Justice Langa since the tough years of our struggle for democracy in South Africa. He has come through the ranks in the judicial sector, having started as a court interpreter and exiting at the highest office of the judiciary in our land. [Applause.]
He and his family members used to visit us in exile, and he was there to receive me when I was released from prison, having accompanied me to prison. [Laughter.]
He also shaped my earlier career as a young lawyer by employing me as a projects co-ordinator while he was the president of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers.
I want to assure Chief Justice Langa that his efforts were not in vain as I have found that my pupillage under his employment has been useful in my current portfolio. [Applause.] I therefore wish to thank former Chief Justice Langa and the three justices of the Constitutional Court who retired with him, Justices Sachs, O’Regan and Mokgoro, for a journey well travelled. We wish the former Chief Justice well in his retirement, and I do trust that we will continue to seek his judicious wisdom and counsel.
It is, Chief Justice Langa, not a worn-out phrase that judges, like good soldiers, never retire.
Sothole, Madevu, nina bakwaKhanyile, onhliziyo zimhlophe, elal’ ezaleni kuse beyiconsa ngokusasa. Bhukuda kwesinengwenya! Ngwane! Gudukazi! Lala mbijana nogwaja ozikhundlakhundla, esinye esokulala esinye esokwethamela; Mncwayo! Sothole! [Ihlombe.]
I have also known Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo for a very long time, as a fellow combatant during the dark ages of apartheid. He was detained between 1976 and 1977 for fighting against the unjust system. He later went on to practise as a legal practitioner to defend those who were victims of the very same system. We graduated from the same university in 1976, the same year that the young students dared to lay down their lives for a better South Africa.
I remember that in 1973 he created a sensation when he became the first student I knew, at the university, who once enjoyed a flight from Durban to Johannesburg. [Laughter.] I was able to enjoy a flight for the very first time in 1977, when the ANC, incidentally President Zuma, sent me from Maputo to Dar es Salaam. [Laughter.]
Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo has been part of the judicial machinery from April 1996, having been first appointed as Acting Judge of the Cape of Good Hope and appointed Acting Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court in 1997.
He has taught at highly acclaimed institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard and Stanford Law Schools. He has served on the Constitutional Court during both Chief Justice Chaskalson’s and Chief Justice Langa’s eras. His strong leadership qualities, impeccable judicial track record and clear foresight will not only strengthen and enhance the judiciary as one of the three branches of the state, but will also contribute to the realisation of a truly transformed and accessible justice system that this country has yearned for for years.
Even before the President could nominate him to his judicial leadership position and before the Judicial Service Commission could find him to be a suitable, fit and proper person for the highest office within the judicial sector, all judges of the Republic of South Africa and his peers had, during the judges’ conference held in July 2009, recognised his leadership qualities and attributes by entrusting him, together with Justice Mogoeng Wa Mogoeng who was recently appointed to the Constitutional Court, with the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the judges’ conference resolutions.
As has been acknowledged by most of the speakers during this debate, Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo assumes office at a critical time when the judiciary is facing numerous challenges, some of which have been raised in this debate. I have no doubt in my mind that Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo will be equal to all those challenges. He has, as his second in command, Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke, who also has profound leadership qualities. I’m confident that through their leadership, the public’s confidence in the judicial system will be restored.
I have trust that under their stewardship, the judiciary will continue to complement the two branches of the state in the quest to build a nonracial and nonsexist society in which every citizen enjoys fundamental rights and freedom.
I have assured the Chief Justice and all the heads of courts of my unwavering support for the judiciary in the realisation of this goal, and will do so within the confines of the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law, which underpin our constitutional democracy. [Applause.]
As you pick up this baton to steer the judiciary to greater heights, Chief Justice Ngcobo, it will always be useful to remember that you are ...
... Fuze! Ndawonye! Mashiy’ amahle sengathi azoshumayela. UnguMapholoba owavuk’ ekuseni wancinda umunwe, wakhomba phezulu, lakhanya bha ilanga. Sibhebhe kaSilwane, Nkodoma wakoNjilo ibinda langalakhe. Kuthiwa inkosi kayiqedwa. [Ihlombe.]
The Speaker of the National Assembly adjourned the Joint Sitting at 15:59.
Jm (isiZulu)/UNH (Eng)/MC/MK(ZULU) / END OF TAKE