Civil society calls for permanent appointment of Black Woman Judge on the Constitutional Court bench

Civil Society organisations are calling for the permanent appointment of Judge Mandisa Maya who currently sits as an Acting Judge on the Constitutional Court bench. The Judicial Service Commission (‘JSC’) will be interviewing 4 shortlisted candidates for one vacant position in the Constitutional Court on 9 June 2012, in Johannesburg.

Of the 4 shortlisted candidates, only one is a woman. Data provided by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and JSC during May 2012 confirms the under-representation of women in the judiciary. Only 67 of 237 Judges are women with only 27 are black, 8 are coloured and 12 are Indian. Sonke Gender Justice (‘Sonke’) and the Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit – UCT (‘GHJRU’) submitted a letter to President Zuma calling for the permanent appointment of Judge Maya. Members of the JSC were copied in on the letter which was endorsed by several civil society organisations.

The call for the appointment of Judge Maya is based on the need to transform the judiciary so that it is more representative of South African society in terms of both gender and race. It is further based on advancing the rights and interests of women who constitute a disadvantaged group of persons in South African society.

Section 174(2) of the Constitution provides that the judiciary needs to ‘reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of South Africa must be considered when judicial officers are appointed.’ Equitable gender representation in the judiciary is supported by various regional and international instruments.

The call for Judge Maya’s appointment is motivated by the fact that she is exceptionally well-qualified for the post. She has experience as an acting judge on the Constitutional Court, a history of judgments that have illustrated her exceptional legal analytical skills and gender sensitivity as well as her various successes as a legal scholar including a Fulbright scholarship, fellowship with the Georgetown University, a lecturing post at the Walter Sisulu University and serving as the served as the Deputy President of the South African Chapter of the International Association for Women Judges.

Dr Kelley Moult of the GHJRU says that research shows that the gender of judicial officers is relevant to judicial outcomes. “In a country like South Africa with its extremely high levels of violence against women and low rates of conviction for these offences, this should give us pause. When we consider statements by judges in these cases that view acts of rape sympathetically, or mitigate sentences handed down to offenders for spurious reasons, we can see that women judges, with their particular life experiences, can have an important role in debunking these myths and exposing patriarchal attitudes.”

Cherith Sanger of Sonke’s Policy Advocacy and Research Unit says that the “fair representation of black women on the bench is essential to ensure that traditional white male spaces are transformed to more gender equitable spaces which entails that decision making power in government is shared equally amongst groups that are disproportionally disadvantaged historically.”

Contact details:

Cherith Sanger
Policy Advocacy and Research Manager
Sonke Gender Justice
(O) 021 423 7088
(C) 071 608 3357

Dr Kelley Moult
Acting Director
Gender, Health & Justice Research Unit
(O) 021 406 6021
(C) 082 652 6722