Will John Hlophe get away with yet another dodgy move? Anti-corruption lawyer sizes up his form

One of South Africa’s most senior judges, John Hlophe, Western Cape judge president, has been accused of, among other things, moonlighting, tax evasion, racism and an allegation that he tried to sway a Constitutional Court judgement in favour of former president Jacob Zuma. Over the weekend, Hlophe was found guilty of impeachable conduct by a Judicial Conduct Tribunal for trying to persuade other judges to favour Zuma, who at the time was challenging search warrants in connection with corruption charges against him. Adv Paul Hoffman, Director of the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa spoke to BizNews, to share his insights on John Hlophe – who has recently burnt through more than R3m in taxpayers’ funds to fight allegations that he has been part of former president Zuma’s corrupt circle. In this interview you’ll hear how Hlophe has been accused of behaviour more likely in a school playground than the corridors of a court building, including allegations of a fisticuffs over his wife. Hoffman assesses to what extent Hlophe has been a player in Zuma’s gangster state. – Jackie Cameron

Paul Hoffman on the importance of the Western Cape judge president:

The judiciary – if it is a judiciary of integrity, impartiality and independence – is really absolutely essential to the upholding of the rule of law and the success of constitutional democracy. That is because it is do the courts that people in dispute, whether they are in dispute with the state or with each other, have to turn in our dispensation in order to have disputes resolved.

The basic rule is that any conduct – or even any new law – that is inconsistent with the Constitution is invalid and may be struck down by the courts and the striking down confirmed by the constitutional court. The courts play a central role and that the judges should all be people of integrity and probity, because a failure to appoint fit and proper persons to be the judges in our dispensation, can lead to the undermining of the rule of law. It can [also] assist with the state capture project and the failure of the state as a consequence of that state capture.

On the role of a judge president:

The judiciary and certainly a judge president as senior and as powerful as him has the duty to see to it that the constitutional checks and balances are in place. That they are not being undermined by what is going on in the public administration, business sector and in the affairs of state generally.

On John Hlophe:

He’s the most senior judge president in the country and he’s the first black person to be appointed as a judge president. His political connections have been abused in order to keep him in place. If he had a shred of decency in him, he would have resigned.

If there is a serious complaint – and it is deemed to be a serious complaint by the machinery of the Judicial Service Commission – then a tribunal is set up. That is what the Labuschagne panel was in Hlophe’s case. The tribunal receives the evidence, hears the complainants and hears the defense to the complainants and makes an award. The award in Hlophe’s case is that he is guilty of gross misconduct, because he interfered with the functioning of the Constitutional Court when he sought to persuade two of its judges to find in favour of Jacob Zuma.

That finding by the tribunal is now to be placed before the Judicial Service Commission with such representations as the parties may wish to make. It makes a decision on whether to accept the finding of the tribunal or to increase – or dilute – the finding of the tribunal.

On whether John Hlophe will be held accountable:

One certainly hopes so, because of the damage that he has done to the fabric of our Constitutional dispensation. And to the ongoing harm that is evidenced by the fact that there are complaints against his wife and him – pending in the machinery of the Judicial Service Commission – concerning things that happened long after the Constitutional Court was interfered with by.

On other allegations levelled against John Hlophe:

It all started a very long time ago, in the early 2000s, [when he was] moonlighting for the Oasis Investment Group. Complaints were made about a spat with an attorney who was alleged to have been rude to one of his acting judges, in the course of which he swore at the attorney – who was Afrikaans speaking – and said he should go back to Holland.

That led to a complaint that was considered by the Judicial Service Commission. The ACDP also wanted to know if he had been paying tax on the money that he earned as a moonlighter for Oasis. The panel that was convened to hear all of those complaints, back then, was able to whitewash the entire thing by really not behaving particularly well.

I’ve written a piece called The Hlophe Inquiry Papers – which is on the Accountability Now website – and in that I describe how the panel was less than careful about doing its work, as a consequence of which Judge Hlophe was given a slap on the knuckles and told not to do it again. So, he got away with it.

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