Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo
“‘We the people…’ I understand the phrase to talk about us – South Africans, and it is a phrase that shows in my view the centrality of the people in our Constitution. How central they are and how we should always remember that we are servants of the people.”
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has an illustrious career with over 20 years of experience in the judiciary. He is renowned for his rich contribution to the field of labour law and his passion for education stemming from the determination he had, as a young student, to attain the qualifications that would enable him to become a legal practitioner. Appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2012, Justice Zondo became Deputy Chief of Justice in 2017. His judgments and his chairing of the Zondo Commission are evidence of his unwavering commitment to our Constitution.
Early Life and Career
Raymond Mnyamezeli Mlungisi “Ray” Zondo was born on 4 May 1960 in Ixopo, Kwa-Zulu Natal, where he attended St Mary’s Seminary. After matriculating, Zondo was awarded a bursary to study law but, coming from a poor family, he was worried about who would provide for his mother and siblings while he was away. Zondo approached a local shop owner, Mr. Bux, about his concerns. Together they made a plan for his mother to receive a loan in the form of monthly grocery vouchers while he studied at the University of Zululand to complete his B Juris.
When I told my mother that I had made arrangements to ensure that they had groceries while I was studying, she couldn’t believe it and was so happy. That is what happened for three years and when I had finished my junior degree I went back to this man and thanked him and asked him what arrangements we could make for me to pay back and he said: ‘Don’t worry – just do to others what I have done for you.’ I thought that was very important and in my own small way I tried to do that.
After completing his degree, Zondo got a job with the Legal Resources Centre where he worked for a year until he was awarded a scholarship to do his LLB at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal (formerly, the University of Natal). Zondo holds three master’s degrees from the University of South Africa, with specialisations in labour law, commercial law and patent law.
Zondo started his articles of clerkship at the firm of the late Victoria Mxenge, who was then a human rights lawyer and prominent anti-apartheid activist. After Mxenge’s assassination by apartheid agents in 1985, Zondo completed his articles at Chennels Alberton Attorneys and was admitted as an attorney in 1989. In Durban, Zondo practised as a partner at Mathe & Zondo, predominantly focused on the field of labour law, while working on a part-time basis as a mediator and arbitrator. Between 1991 and 1992 Zondo served on the Goldstone Commission which investigated the political violence and intimidation in the 1990s in South Africa.
It is very important for all of us as we enjoy this freedom that we have to remember that there are people like Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, and many others who sacrificed a lot for this freedom … We need to be alive to the fact that the freedom, the kind of country they sacrificed their lives for, is a country that seeks to make sure that everyone is treated with human dignity.
The responsibility she [Victoria Mxenge] gave to me said: there is somebody who really believes in me, and that went a long way for me even when she was no more. She put me on that path and she made a huge mark in my life.
With a view of a democratic South Africa, Zondo was a member of the Ministerial Task Team that drafted a Labour Relations Bill for the post-apartheid era. He was then appointed as the first chairperson of the Governing Body of the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) in 1996 before becoming a judge.
This was at a time when the CCMA had just been established and there was a Governing Body on which sat representatives of organised Labour and Government and organised Business. And to be chairperson, all of them had to agree on you and you had to enjoy their confidence. And I was honoured to be asked to be chairperson; and since it was a new organisation there was a lot of work to be done in terms of planning.
In 1997, Zondo accepted an acting appointment as a Judge of the Labour Court and later was appointed to the North Gauteng Division of the High Court (formerly Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court). From 2000, Zondo served as Judge President of the Labour Court and the Labour Appeal Court for a term of office of ten years before returning to the bench of the North Gauteng Division of the High Court in 2010. During his time as Judge President, Zondo served on several committees of the Heads of Courts, including the five-member panel led by Chief Justice Pius Langa, to investigate discrimination, race and gender in the judiciary. Zondo also chaired the Language Committee of Heads of Court.
Appointment to the Constitutional Court
Zondo’s appointment by President Jacob Zuma as a Justice of the Constitutional Court took place in August 2012. This followed his tenure in an acting position from November the previous year. On 1 June 2017 Zondo succeeded Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke when he was appointed as Deputy Chief Justice.
We take our independence as judges very, very seriously. It is critical for our democracy. We dare not take chances with regard to that and its maintenance doesn’t depend on us as judges only – it depends also on the populace, the citizenry and how much they are prepared to fight for judicial independence to be maintained.
I will remember, as I have always remembered, that I come from communities that are very poor and that just because at a certain stage I became a lawyer and at a certain stage I became a judge, just because I became Judge President of the Labour Appeal Court and a justice of the Constitutional Court, doesn’t mean that I am no longer part of those people … I should always remember that they are very important.
During his tenure as Deputy Chief Justice, Zondo was appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa as the presiding judge for the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, investigating allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud in the Public Sector, including organs of state. The Commission was launched in 2018 and is an ongoing inquiry.
Judgments of Interest
Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development and Others v Prince (2018)
Gareth Prince had been lobbying for the decriminalisation of cannabis since his second year as a law-student in 1989. Eventually in 2018 Prince approached the courts, arguing that the Drugs Act and the Medicines Act, which prohibited the use of marijuana, limited the right to privacy. The use of cannabis in private settings should be allowed.
In a judgment penned by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo, the Constitutional Court held that the Drugs Act was unconstitutional to the extent that it prohibits the use, possession or cultivation of cannabis for adult personal private consumption. The Court suspended the ruling to allow Parliament the opportunity to rectify these Acts.
I am of the view that the prohibition of the performance of any activity in connection with the cultivation of cannabis by an adult in private for his or her personal consumption in private is inconsistent with the right to privacy entrenched in the Constitution and is constitutionally invalid.
Klaas Lesetja Phakane v The State (2017)
Klaas Phakane was convicted for the murder of his girlfriend, Matila Chuene Boshomane. One of Phakane’s girlfriend at the time, made a statement to the police and stated that Phakane told her he had injured Boshomane with his belt and left her in a veld. Phakane was subsequently arrested and charged with murder and assault of the deceased – to which he pleaded not guilty. In the High Court, there were serious discrepancies between the evidence the girlfriend gave in court and the statement she made to the police. The former, clearly implicated him in murder, whereas the latter did not. The court found Phakane guilty of murder and sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
Phakane appealed to a full court of the High Court which, despite missing evidence, held that the evidence available was enough evidence to justify his conviction. Phakane turned to the Constitutional Court, arguing that the state’s failure to produce a complete trial record for his appeal constituted an infringement of his right to a fair appeal entrenched in section 35(3) of the Constitution. In a judgement authored by Deputy Chief Justice Zondo, the Constitutional Court found that Manamela’s evidence was critical to the conviction by the trial court and that without a transcript of that evidence, there could be no fair appeal. The Court held that Phakane’s right to a fair appeal had been infringed on and set aside the murder conviction, saying that it would be up to the National Prosecuting Authority to decide whether or not to recharge Phakane.
In my view, his right to a fair appeal has been so compromised that his appeal could not be fairly determined. That being the case‚ the proper remedy is to set aside the trial proceedings in their entirety.
Family and Personal Life
Zondo is married and he and his wife, Thembekile, have four children.
In the Words of Others
During his tenure he met the gender transformation challenge … His consistency in trying to achieve a gender balance on the judiciary has been characterised by leading and being proactive. It is clear that Justice Zondo has the ability to visualise the future needs of our judiciary, but also has the ability to achieve those goals in regard to race and gender transformation as described.
Judge Zondo’s ascent through the ranks of the legal fraternity, his distinguished career, and as yet, incomplete 20-year journey through the South African judiciary, makes him one of South Africa’s foremost legal minds.
He has been at the forefront of the development of a fair and progressive labour law and human rights regime as evidenced in his jurisprudence; in addition he is deeply committed to the prescriptions of transformation as evidenced by the composition of the Labour Court.