Constitutional Court Justices Sisi Khampepe and Chris Jafta served their last day on the bench on Monday.
Justice Sisi Khampepe
Sowetan-born Khampepe’s legal career spans over 40 years.
She obtained her BProc degree from Zululand University before travelling abroad to further her career. She graduated with an LLM degree from Harvard University and served her articles at Bowman Gilfillan.
Kampepe later started her practice (SV Khampepe Attorneys) and was one of the few black labour law firms in the country at the time. She became renowned for defending workers against unjust laws and unfair employment practices.
Throughout her career, Khampepe served in several positions.
In 1995, former president Nelson Mandela appointed her as one of the commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
In 2004, former president Thabo Mbeki appointed Khampepe and former deputy chief justice Dikgang Moseneke to oversee the Zimbabwean elections.
Then in February 2006, secretary-general of the Commonwealth, Honourable Donald C McKinnon, seconded her as a member of the Commonwealth Observer Group to the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Uganda.
Between 2005 and 2006, she chaired a Commission of Inquiry into the mandate and location of the Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions) in what became known as the Khampepe Commission.
She was also the vice-chairperson of the National Council of Correctional Services from 2005 to April 2010.
Khampepe’s judicial career
Justice Khampepe’s judicial career commenced in 2000 when she was appointed a high court judge in the Gauteng division.
She later served as acting deputy judge president of the Labour Appeal Court and Labour Court.
In 2009, justice Khampepe took her seat at the highest court in the land. During her tenure on the ConCourt bench, she served twice as the acting deputy chief justice of the Republic.
Justice Khampepe’s time on the bench is also marked by her eloquently developed jurisprudence on the rights of women, children, and other vulnerable members of society.
Her last two well-known judgments relate to the work of the State Capture Commission of Inquiry.
“She is celebrated by her colleagues and the legal community as a jurist of vast intellect, uncompromising integrity and inimitable style,” said acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.
Zondo said her quiet yet fierce strength would be sorely missed but remembered with gratitude and admiration.
“After decades of bountiful contributions to South African law and society, Justice Khampepe is to enjoy her well-earned retirement with her loving husband and family,” said Zondo.
Justice Chris Jafta
Justice Jafta also served for the last time on Monday, marking his last day on the bench after 12 years of service.
Jafta obtained his B Juris and LLB degrees from the University of Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University) in 1983 and 1987, respectively.
Jafta began his career as a court interpreter in 1983. He was then appointed as a District Court public prosecutor the following year.
He served as DPP until December 1985, when the attorney-general withdrew his authority to prosecute at the instance of the apartheid Government Security Police. He was demoted and served as an administrative clerk of the court.
Jafta’s punishment came after he rejected interferrence from the Security Police relating to some of his cases.
He was briefly detained and subjected to intense interrogation by the Security Police.
Jafta’s judical career
Then, in July 1986, the tables turned, and he was appointed as a magistrate.
In February 1988, he resigned and joined Mbuqe and Mbuqe law firm as a candidate attorney.
His time as a candidate attorney was brief because he joined the University of Transkei as a lecturer a couple of months later.
Jafta taught commercial and constitutional Law.
By 1992, he did pupillage at the Johannesburg Bar and commenced practice as an advocate in Mthatha the following year.
His practice focused mainly on labour and constitutional matters.
In 1997 Justice Jafta was appointed as an Acting Judge of the High Court (Transkei Division) for four months.
In November 1999, he was permanently appointed as a judge of that division.
In June 2001, justice Jafta served as the acting judge president of the High Court Transkei Division until June 2003.
Later that year, he was appointed as an acting judge of appeal in the Labour Appeal Court until June 2004.
Between June to October 2004, he was an acting judge of appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
In November 2004, he was appointed as a judge of appeal in that court.
In October 2009, justice Jafta was appointed as a justice of the Constitutional Court, a position he occupied until Monday 11 October 2021.
For some time, justice Jafta also served as a member of the Council of the South African Judicial Education Institute (SAJEI).
“Justice Jafta has made a huge contribution to this country’s jurisprudence,” said Zondo.
Zondo thanked justice Jafta for his contribution to the development of our law and his services.
“I wish him everything of the best during his retirement,” concluded Zondo.
Kampepe and Jafta’s retirement coincides with the end of chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s term on the bench.
(Compiled by Narissa Subramoney)