Bhisho High Court Judge Selby Mbenenge seemed to have impressed the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in his three-hour-long interview for the vacant Judge President (JP) position on the Eastern Cape Bench.
Mbenenge came fully prepared to discuss his vision for the high court in the province should he be appointed, pointing to the need to bring ongoing rationalisation of the courts to fruition, including realigning magisterial districts.
Bhisho deputy judge-president David van Zyl, who was also shortlisted for an interview after being rejected in April for the same position, seemed to have provoked the ire of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for not knowing why judges in Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth have not complied with directives on case flow management.
Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle joined Deputy Justice Minister John Jeffery and other members of the JSC for yesterday’s session.
Mbenenge spoke of his work as a lawyer over 33 years, his contribution to the country’s jurisprudence and his leader-ship abilities, including his ability to direct work and to manage conflict.
Referring to comments by EFF leader Julius Malema during a previous hearing that, as a newly baptised judge, he was seeking appointment as a pastor too soon, Mbenenge said he was ready for appointment.
The opportunity to act as deputy judge-president in Mthatha had been a good experience, giving him the opportunity to prove himself and preparing him to consider applying for the JP position.
Asked what he would do to affirm the role of women on the bench, he said that as an advocate, he had worked with up to 10 women colleagues, which had made him sensitive to the personal circumstances of women practitioners.
In his view, there should be a measure of “reasonable accommodation” of women given these circumstances.
The JSC will deliberate and decide on which candidate to recommend to President Jacob Zuma for appointment.
The process of choosing judges by the JSC has been subject to criticism from a range of quarters.
The Democratic Governance Rights Unit at the University of Cape Town has said that the JSC would benefit from explaining why a particular candidate was appointed or not appointed.
Such an approach, said the unit, was especially important where an interview pointed to “difficulties in relationships within the judiciary”.
The commission also interviewed three candidates for a vacancy on the Grahamstown bench and two for a vacancy in Mthatha.