Delinquent ex-judge wants to appoint and monitor judges


Delinquent ex-judge wants to appoint and monitor judges

Mr. Fox as Minister of Chickens. Ms Cat as Minister of Mice. And John Hlophe as guardian of judges. By MAX DU PREEZ.


What's the difference between God and John Hlophe? God doesn't think he is John Hlophe. — A popular joke in Western Cape legal circles

The ousted, disgraced former judge John Hlophe’s nomination to the body that evaluates judicial conduct and selects new judges comes straight from the Donald Trump/Vladimir Putin playbook.

Given the credibility and proper functioning of the judiciary as the strongest pillar of our democracy, it will be disastrous if parliament allows Hlophe's nomination by the MK Party to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to succeed.

Hlophe, 65, the MKP's newest recruit and now also parliamentary leader, is one of several discredited old scoundrels from the Zuma era now practising their revenge politics with the MKP.

Among the others are Brian Molefe, once the boss of Transnet and Eskom, Tom Moyane, Zuma's agent who tried to capture the national revenue service, Siyabonga Gama, a former head of Transnet who is accused of corruption, and Des “Weekend Special" van Rooyen, who was Jacob Zuma's finance minister for a few days and showed up at the office with Gupta advisers.

In February, Hlophe was impeached by the National Assembly and shortly thereafter dismissed as a judge by the president because he improperly tried to influence two Constitutional Court judges in 2008 to decide a case in favour of Zuma.

If Hlophe had not been so unethical, dishonest and narcissistic, he would surely have become the chief justice. Before his long list of scandals began, he was the crown prince and role model of black jurists.

He comes from a humble working-class family in Stanger, KwaZulu-Natal. His studies were sponsored by his mother's employer, Ian Smeaton. He obtained a B Juris at Fort Hare, an LLB at the University of Natal, then an LLM and PhD at Cambridge.

He was a professor of administrative law at the universities of Natal and Transkei before being appointed as a judge in the Western Cape High Court in 1995, the first black judge on that bench and, at 35, the youngest judge yet. He became the Western Cape judge president in 2000.


Things soon began to go wrong. In 2004, the appeal court sharply criticised him for a poor judgment and Hlophe's response to the media was: “To be frank, I couldn’t care less."

That same year, he sent a lengthy report to the minister of justice accusing several Cape judges and senior advocates of racism. Few in the legal profession took it seriously. In 2005, in the presence of a senior advocate, he shouted at attorney Joshua Greeff: “You’re nothing but a piece of white shit and it’s time you go back to Holland.”

In 2005, it came to light that Hlophe had received about R500,000 in monthly fees as a director of Oasis Group Holdings and had not declared it, yet he had presided over a case in which Oasis was the applicant. The JSC decided not to act against Hlophe, something that happened regularly in the following nearly two decades.

In 2007, former Constitutional Court justice Johann Kriegler declared in an open letter in the Sunday Times that Hlophe was unfit to be a judge. The letter was supported by eight senior advocates in the Western Cape.

In 2007, Hlophe, co-owner of a Boland wine farm, asked the department of transport to upgrade his official car, a Mercedes ML500, to a Porsche Cayenne.

In 2008, justices Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta of the Constitutional Court lodged a formal complaint against Hlophe because he pressured them to side with Zuma in a case. This case dragged on for 12 years but ultimately led to Hlophe's downfall.

In 2020, the deputy judge president of the Western Cape, Judge Patricia Goliath, claimed Hlophe physically assaulted Judge Mushtak Parker and not only gave preferential treatment to his wife, Judge Gayaat Salie-Hlophe, but also physically abused her and created a climate of fear and intimidation in the court division.

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Goliath also said Hlophe instructed her in 2015 to allocate an application to halt Zuma's controversial nuclear power deal with Russia to two judges who were favourable to Zuma.

The 23-member JSC is a creation of Section 178 of the constitution. It consists of the chief justice, the head of the appeal court, a judge president, the minister of justice, two advocates and two attorneys, a professor of law, six members of the National Assembly, of whom at least three must be from the opposition, four members of the National Council of Provinces, and four members designated by the president.

The commission interviews aspiring judges then sends recommendations to the president, and deliberates on charges of misconduct by judges.

Two years ago, a sitting of the JSC degenerated due to the improper questions and remarks of advocate Dali Mpofu, advocate Griffiths Madonsela and EFF leader Julius Malema, so much so that it had to be redone.

The constitution declares that “six persons designated by the National Assembly" will be members of the JSC, which surely means that the six candidates must be approved by a majority of members — or not.

The civil society groups Freedom under Law, Judges Matter, the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, the Helen Suzman Foundation, Defend our Democracy and the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation this week wrote to Speaker Thoko Didiza to object to Hlophe's nomination. 

♦ VWB ♦

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