The South African Parliament has resolved to proceed with the impeachment of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, unless legally obstructed by court intervention. This development follows Judge Hlophe’s recent announcement that he had filed a court application seeking to halt the impending parliamentary impeachment process.
Moloto Mothapo, a spokesperson for Parliament, confirmed receipt of the court documents regarding this matter. Mothapo articulated the legislature’s stance, stating,
“We plan to oppose (the court application). We will proceed (with the impeachment) unless interdicted.”
Imminent Vote on Judicial Removal
Parliament’s decision to hold a vote on the removal of both Judge Hlophe and Judge Nkola Motata was finalized in November, with the aim of resolving the matter before the end of the month. This decision emerged from the National Assembly’s program subsequent to the adoption of a report by the justice and correctional services portfolio committee, which recommended the dismissal of the two judges.
The committee’s recommendation for impeachment came after providing Judges Hlophe and Motata an opportunity to submit written representations in their defense.
Origins of Misconduct Allegations
The allegations of gross misconduct against Judge Hlophe stem from a complaint lodged by justices of the Constitutional Court. They accused him of improperly attempting to sway the court’s judgment in the Zuma-Thint case.
Judge Hlophe, addressing his decision to seek legal intervention, expressed concern about the parliamentary impeachment proceeding amidst ongoing legal matters. He remarked,
“There are so many cases that are going on and any decision to now impeach me will be premature because it will be final (and) we can no longer deal with that,”
during an interview on the EFF Podcast. Judge Hlophe also questioned the urgency of the parliamentary process, adding,
“There is no rush. I don’t understand why they are rushing.”
John Hlophe’s Contention and Legal Battles
Judge John Hlophe further alleged a political motive behind the actions against him, particularly emphasizing his challenges in the Western Cape. He argued,
“If you go there, you rock the boat. You advocate transformation, you pioneer transformation, you are going to be the enemy of the establishment.”
He referred to a longstanding case from 2008, where allegations were made against him regarding his influence on the Constitutional Court judges. Despite a period of voluntary suspension and subsequent clearance by the Judicial Service Commission in 2009, the issue resurfaced due to legal actions by the DA and Freedom Under Law.
Allegations of Political Motivation
Addressing his suspension in December 2022, Judge Hlophe claimed political motivations, particularly pointing to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s involvement. He asserted,
“Whenever he makes a decision, it is a political decision.”
Judge John Hlophe criticized the uniqueness of being suspended multiple times over the same issue, suggesting that it was an unlawful and politically influenced decision by the President.
The unfolding situation presents a complex interplay of legal, political, and judicial elements, revealing the multifaceted nature of the challenges facing South Africa’s judicial system.
Who is Yahya John Mandlakayise Hlophe?
Yahya John Mandlakayise Hlophe, born on the first day of 1959 in the town of Stanger, located in KwaZulu-Natal, currently holds the esteemed position of Judge President in the Western Cape Division of the High Court of South Africa.
Hlophe’s educational journey is marked by his attendance at notable institutions. His academic path began in the University of Natal, continued at the University of Fort Hare, and later led him to the prestigious Cambridge University. Following his educational pursuits, Hlophe embarked on a career in academia, sharing his knowledge of law as a lecturer at the University of Transkei, situated in South Africa.
In a historic appointment in 1995, at the age of 36, Hlophe broke new ground as he ascended to the bench as the first black judge in the High Court in Cape Town. This appointment was not only a personal milestone but also a significant moment in South Africa’s judicial history. He is notably recognised as the first full-time academic to be appointed to a position as a High Court Judge. Five years later, in 2000, his career saw another significant advancement when he was appointed to lead the court.
John Hlophe’s Professional Career
AGE AND GENDER: African Male, 62 years of age.
CURRENT POSITION: Judge President of the Western Cape Division of the High Court, appointed as such on 01 May 2000.
QUALIFICATIONS: B Juris (University of Fort Hare); LLB (University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg); LLM (University of Cambridge, England); PhD (University of Cambridge, England); LLD (honoris causa)
PREVIOUS JUDICIAL POSITIONS: Judge of the Western Cape Division of the High Court, 1995; Acting Deputy Judge President of the Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division, 1998; Member of the Industrial Court of South Africa and Transkei.
PREVIOUS POSITIONS HELD: Professor and Head of the Department of Constitutional and Public International Law (now called the Department of Public Law) at the University of Transkei (Now called Walter Sisulu University), 1994; Lecturer in Industrial Relations at Damelin Management School (Umtata Branch); 1993 – 1994; Part-time Lecturer in Public Law I and Public Law II at Transkei Technikon (Butterworth) 1993 – 1994); Between 1991 – 1994: Vice-Dean of Law Faculty Acting Dean of Law for 2 terms; Chief-Editor of the Transkei Law Journal at the University of Transkei; Lecturer at the University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1988 – 1990; Roman Law Tutor at the University of Cambridge, 1987; Senior Lecturer at the University of Zululand (KwaDlangezwa), 1985; Fellow at the Legal Resources Centre (Durban), 1984.
LEADERSHIP POSITIONS / EXTRA-JUDICIAL WORK: Member of the South African Law Commission – Project on International and Domestic Arbitration; Chancellor of the Peninsula Technikon, Western Cape Province in February 2003; Represented South Africa at the Hague Conference on Private International Law (the multi-lateral treaty on: “Recognition, Jurisdiction and Enforcement of Foreign Judgments in Civil and Commercial Matters” (Den Haag in April 1996); Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Cape Town, 1999; Honorary Professor, University of South Africa (UNISA).