Chris Jafta

Christopher Nyaole "Chris" Jafta (born 1959) is a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.[1]

Chris Jafta
Justice of the Constitutional Court
Assumed office
November 2009
Appointed byPresident Jacob Zuma
Judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal
In office
October 2004  October 2009
Appointed byPresident Thabo Mbeki
Judge of the Transkei High Court
In office
4 January 1999  October 2004
Appointed byPresident Thabo Mbeki
Acting Judge of the Transkei High Court
In office
May 1997  December 1998
Appointed byPresident Thabo Mbeki
Personal details
Matatiele, Cape Province
Alma materUniversity of Transkei

Early life

Jafta was born outside Matatiele, now on the border between the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, and went to junior and high school there.[2] His father was a builder and his mother a housewife.[2]

Jafta earned a BProc at the University of Transkei in 1983 and began work as a prosecutor for the Transkei government.[2] He was briefly demoted to an administrative position for failing to obey instructions from the security police.[2] He became a magistrate in 1986, completing an LLB part-time,[2] and later returned to his alma mater as a lecturer in constitutional law and commercial law.[1] In 1993 he was admitted as an advocate and practiced in Mthatha.[1]

Judicial career

In 1999 Jafta was appointed a judge of the Transkei Division of the High Court (now the Mthatha seat of the Eastern Cape Division). From 2001 to 2003 he was acting Judge President of the Transkei Division, and in 2003 and 2004 he served in acting positions on the Labour Appeal Court (on the invitation of Ray Zondo)[2] and the Supreme Court of Appeal. In 2004 he was elevated to a permanent position on the Supreme Court of Appeal.[1] Jafta was seen by some as a "rising star".[3] His own view was that his appointment as a judge, and rapid series of promotions, came too early in his career, but was necessary to increase the bench's racial diversity.[2]

Constitutional Court

In 2007 and 2008 Jafta served as an acting justice of the Constitutional Court, and in 2009 he was permanently appointed (together with Sisi Khampepe, Mogoeng Mogoeng and Johan Froneman) by President Jacob Zuma.[1] He is considered a key member, with Ray Zondo, of the Court's conservative wing.[4]

Some of Jafta's judgments have proved controversial. For example, his judgment in Walele,[5] delivered during his acting stint, has been described by a leading advocate as "awful" and "inexplicable".[6] He is one of the most prolific judges on the Court, with a very high dissent rate, including on points not raised by the parties or his colleagues.[7][8] His main judgments have sometimes received no support from his colleagues.[9] Jafta's dissent in Rivonia,[10] which received the support of only his staunch ally Ray Zondo and was criticised by commentators,[11] sought to racialise a seemingly innocuous issue and said certain of the Court's previous judgments were not binding. However, his unanimous judgment in Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela,[12] which upheld an appeal by a rural community embroiled in a dispute with its controversial traditional leader, was described as a "crucial" judgment on land rights and land reform[13][14] and received lavish praise from commentators.[15][16][17][18]

Hlophe controversy

In 2008, when Jafta was acting in the Constitutional Court, High Court judge John Hlophe allegedly approached Jafta and Bess Nkabinde to persuade them to find for President Jacob Zuma in pending litigation. The Constitutional Court laid a public complaint against Hlophe which Jafta and Nkabinde supported.[19] Six years later, however, when the misconduct enquiry against Hlophe was pending, Jafta and Nkabinde brought a court challenge to the tribunal's jurisdiction, saying their own complaint was not legally valid.[20] Commentators slammed Jafta and Nkabinde's "cowardice", which had brought the Constitutional Court into disrepute.[21] Others said Jafta and Nkabinde's conduct left them "baffled" and confounded expectations about how judges should behave.[22] The two judges claimed, in response, that they were simply upholding the Constitution.[23]

The High Court dismissed the judges' application on 26 September 2014,[24] but they appealed.[25] The Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed that appeal in March 2016, criticising Jafta and Nkabinde's damaging court application and implying that the case raised questions about their "integrity".[26] On 6 April 2016, Jafta and Nkabinde filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court – their own court – asking it to overturn the Supreme Court of Appeal's judgment.[27] They did so partly on the basis that the SCA made "hurtful" imputations about them. All this was despite the fact, as one commentator noted, that the Constitutional Court already held in 2012 that it cannot hear appeals in the Hlophe matter and that any SCA judgment is final.[28][29] It appeared that Jafta and Nkabinde were "obstructing and delaying the process" of holding Hlophe to account.[30] On 17 May 2016, the Constitutional Court dismissed the two judges' application for leave to appeal, prompting hopes that the misconduct tribunal could finally proceed.[30][31] However, on 7 June 2016, in a move that "baffled and sent ripples through the legal community", Jafta and Nkabine applied to the Court for a second time, now asking it to rescind its earlier dismissal order on the grounds that it had been granted erroneously.[32] This compounded suspicions that Jafta and Nkabinde were acting on corrupt motives.[32]

Personal life

Jafta is married and has two children.[1]


  1. "Justice Chris Jafta". Constitutional Court. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  2. "Constitutional Court Oral History Project: Chris Jafta" (PDF). 2 December 2011.
  3. Alcock, Sello S. "Judges in the dock". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  4. Tolsi, Niren (18 October 2013). "Applause for Mogoeng's judicial cadenza".
  5. "Walele v City of Cape Town and Others (CCT 64/07) [2008] ZACC 11; 2008 (6) SA 129 (CC); 2008 (11) BCLR 1067 (CC) (13 June 2008)". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  6. "Constitutional Court Oral History Project: Geoff Budlender" (PDF). 6 January 2012.
  7. "Cool Ideas 1186 CC v Hubbard and Another (CCT 99/13) [2014] ZACC 16; 2014 (4) SA 474 (CC); 2014 (8) BCLR 869 (CC) (5 June 2014)". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  8. "Bapedi Marota Mamone v Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims and Others (CCT 67/14) [2014] ZACC 36; 2015 (3) BCLR 268 (CC) (15 December 2014)". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  9. "Sali v National Commissioner of the South African Police Service and Others (CCT 164/13) [2014] ZACC 19; [2014] 9 BLLR 827 (CC); 2014 (9) BCLR 997 (CC); (2014) 35 ILJ 2727 (CC) (19 June 2014)". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  10. "MEC for Education in Gauteng Province and Other v Governing Body of Rivonia Primary School and Others (CCT 135/12) [2013] ZACC 34; 2013 (6) SA 582 (CC); 2013 (12) BCLR 1365 (CC) (3 October 2013)". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  11. "Editorial | Approaching the bench: the four candidates for the vacant Constitutional Court seat - African Legal Centre (ALC)". Retrieved 2015-07-16.
  12. "Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Communal Property Association v Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela Tribal Authority and Others (CCT231/14) [2015] ZACC 25 (20 August 2015)". Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  13. Rabkin, Franny (29 May 2015). "Bakgatla case with far-reaching implications before top court". Business Day. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  14. Clark, Michael (18 June 2015). "Bakgatla ba Kgafela's Constitutional Court case goes to heart of land reform". African Legal Centre. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  15. Evans, Sarah (20 August 2015). "ConCourt hands land back to North West community". Mail & Guardian. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  16. "Landmark Bakgatla-Ba-Kgafela community victory highlights land claims issues". CapeTalk. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  17. Mashego, Penelope (21 August 2015). "Top court rules for community in landmark case". Business Day. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  18. "Constitutional Court judgment backs democratic control of land in traditional areas". Times LIVE. Rand Daily Mail. 20 August 2015. Retrieved 2015-09-13.
  19. Smook, Ella (13 October 2008). "Judge Jafta pulls ConCourt application". IOL.
  20. SAPA (21 October 2013). "Judges file Hlophe review application". IOL.
  21. Mackaiser, Eusebius (7 October 2013). "Shame on those two Concourt judges". IOL.
  22. Rabkin, Franny. "What happens when the judge becomes the judged?". Rand Daily Mail. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  23. Hawker, Dianne (21 October 2013). "Nkabinde and Jafta: We are fighting for the Constitution". eNCA.
  24. Nkabinde and Another v Judicial Service Commission and Others [2014] ZAGPJHC 217; 2015 (1) SA 279 (GJ).
  25. Tolsi, Niren (6 October 2014). "Hlophe 'misconduct': Jafta, Nkabinde stall matter". News24. City Press.
  26. "Nkabinde and Another v Judicial Service Commission and Others (20857/2014) [2016] ZASCA 12". SAFLII. 10 March 2016.
  27. Affairs, SABC News and Current. "HLOPHE CONCOURT". Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  28. "Hlophe v Premier of the Western Cape Province". SAFLII. 30 March 2012.
  29. "Two Constitutional Court justices take case on appeal to own court". Business Day Live. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
  30. Thamm, Marianne (17 May 2016). "Judge Hlophe misconduct charges: ConCourt breakthrough ruling allows judges to be held accountable". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  31. Raborife, Mpho (16 May 2016). "ConCourt dismisses appeal on SCA's Judge Hlophe misconduct ruling". News24. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
  32. Thamm, Marianne (9 May 2016). "Justice delayed: Two ConCourt judges inexplicably continue to stymie judicial accountability". Daily Maverick. Retrieved 2016-07-25.
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