Zondo was recommended for the position following an interview before the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in April and has been officially appointed to the post by President Jacob Zuma.
“President Zuma wishes Justice Zondo all the best in his new and important responsibility of advancing our constitutional democracy‚” said a statement from Zuma’s office.
The Deputy Chief Justice position became vacant as a result of the retirement from active service of Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke.
During his interview‚ Zondo spoke of the hardships he had growing up and how a local businessman had assisted to ensure that his dream of studying law came true.
Zondo said his mother had lost her job and by the time he reached Grade 11‚ had exhausted all her savings.
While he was sure he would secure a bursary to further his studies‚ he knew his community had expected him to find a job and assist to take care of his family after obtaining his matric qualification.
“But I wanted to go and do law and I was determined but I felt that I couldn’t go unless I made arrangements to make sure that my mother‚ brothers and sisters would be able to have something to eat‚” Zondo told the JSC panel interviewing him for the job in April.
“So I decided one Saturday to go to Ixopo and I approached a certain Indian businessman who owned a wholesale shop. I told him my story. I said I wanted to go to university and study but this is the problem and is there any way he could give me a loan which I would use to support my mother and my siblings. After I finish my degree I could then pay him back‚” said Zondo.
The businessman‚ known as Mr Moosa‚ agreed to give Zondo’s mother monthly vouchers which she could use to come and purchase groceries at his shop every month.
“He said‚ ‘until you finish your degree this is what we will do and then you can repay it after your degree’. So I was very happy. He didn’t ask me to sign anything. He just took my word and my mom could not believe it when I came back from town and told her that I had been able to make arrangements so that they would be able to have groceries while I was studying. “
The family collected the groceries for three years.
“When I finished my degree‚ I went back to this man and thanked him and asked what arrangements I could make for me to pay him back‚” said Zondo‚ looking down‚ trying to compose himself.
He cupped his hands to his face and after a pregnant pause‚ he told the commission that Moosa did not want him to pay back the money.
“[Mr Moosa] said: ‘No don’t worry. Just do to others what I have done to you’… and in my own small way I try to do that‚” said an emotional Zondo.
During his interview‚ Zondo had made promises about how he would fulfil his role with integrity.
“If I am appointed‚ I will remember‚ as I have throughout my career‚ that I come from communities that are very poor. Just because at a certain stage I became a lawyer‚ a judge‚ judge president or justice of the Constitutional Court‚ it doesn’t mean I am no longer part of those people‚” said Zondo.
“I should always remember that they are very important. If I am appointed as Deputy Chief Justice‚ that will always continue to be my attitude‚” he said‚ adding that “we shouldn’t behave as if we are Gods”.
The 56-year-old‚ who is good friends with the incumbent Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng holds over 20 years of judicial experience.
He has served as a judge in the High Court and Constitutional Court. Zondo has also held the position of Judge President of the Labour Court and Labour Appeal Court.
Zuma wished him well in his new position.