Batting for Gauntlett
A group of influential South Africans is batting for Cape Town advocate Jeremy Gauntlett to win a place on the bench of the Constitutional Court.
Nominations for the 62-year-old streamed in last week after the Judicial Service Commission advertised the vacancy that will arise when Judge Zak Yacoob retires in January.
One of the first to nominate Gauntlett was Sir Sydney Kentridge, who is practising in the UK. Kentridge represented former president Nelson Mandela in court and was an acting judge of the Constitutional Court immediately after its inception.
Less than a month ago, the JSC decided against recommending Gauntlett for one of five judgeships vacant in the Cape High Court. That was the fourth time he had been rejected by the commission.
Undeterred by the JSC's snub, Gauntlett has agreed to accept nominations to the Constitutional Court by, among others:
- Vice-chancellor and principal of the Central University of Technology, Free State, Professor Thandwa Mthembu, who wrote: "If the same [Gauntlett] - seen by some as an enemy of the state and the ANC - could assure victory for government over the Opposition to the Urban Tolling Alliance and all its associates, there is something significant to be said about his legal skills";
- Former Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane, who said: "My term of office coincided with significant change on many fronts within South Africa. Much of the change was around the enabling legislation tabled by the national government, legislation that would make our hard-won constitution a 'living document' that would benefit all South Africans. I was blessed in this time to have a man of [Gauntlett's] stature to call upon for advice .";
- IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said: "Both domestically and internationally it has become most axiomatic to refer to [Gauntlett] as one of the best legal minds in South African history";
- Western Cape Premier Helen Zille: "[Though] there is no doubt that [Gauntlett] is clearly a feisty court litigator who has ruffled more than one set of feathers in his years in court, his conduct, in lawfully and articulately promoting the interests of his clients, has been exemplary, often in litigation matters where the stakes have been high . "; and
- Kentridge said: "We worked together on a number of cases against the apartheid government, and I can testify not only to his great ability but to his commitment to the causes we presented."
Gauntlett said he was "surprised and moved" by the nominations.
"I can only think that many South Africans are deeply concerned about the approach of the JSC in recent years and wish to see a strongly independent, post-racial judiciary committed to the constitution's vision. I am honoured that they should do what they have done," he said.
Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed on February 22.
Gauntlett's initial backer for the position on the Cape bench, former judge Louis Harms, has decided not to nominate him for the Constitutional Court position because others have already done so.
There is still a cloud hanging over the JSC decision to overlook Gauntlett for the Cape bench. After it became clear that he would be rejected again, Harms's lawyers asked for reasons. The JSC said it rejected Gauntlett because he was "acerbic" and had a "short thread". They questioned his "humility".
But Harms wanted further clarity.
On Friday, Sello Chiloane, of the JSC secretariat, said Gauntlett was "fit and proper" for the position but this did not guarantee a recommendation.
Yesterday, Harms said he was not satisfied "because all material issues were not addressed. In fact, I am very disappointed. In view of the new nomination [for the Constitutional Court], the landscape has changed and I have to consider carefully what steps to take, if any."
Former University of Cape Town deputy registrar Paul Ngobeni, a staunch Gauntlett detractor, believes Gauntlett will fail in his bid for a Constitutional Court post.
Ngobeni said steps were being taken to file a misconduct complaint against Gauntlett for making "false and scandalous" accusations against the JSC and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in the Sunday Times of November 11.
Gauntlett, asked why it took so long for the JSC to give reasons for turning him down, responded: "Because the reasons didn't exist."
Ngobeni said that Gauntlett had mocked Mogoeng's religious beliefs.
Ngobeni said: "It is doubtful whether a man who evidences religious bigotry can be trusted with a Concourt appointment where he will serve under a man he accuses of lying, manufacturing reasons and disassembling in order to cover up the real reasons for his non-selection."