Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo

Date of Birth

1 March 1953


B Proc (1975) (University of Zululand), LLB (1985) (University of Natal, Durban), LLM (1986) (Harvard Law School)

History at the Court:

Appointed: 13 August 1999

Appointed as Chief Justice: October 2009

Retired: 14 August 2011

Brief biography

Chief Justice Ngcobo was the beneficiary of a scholarship from Barclays Bank between 1973 and 1976. He was in detention from 1976 to July 1977. From September 1977 to April 1978 he worked in the Maphumulo magistrate’s office.

Chief Justice Ngcobo then joined KK Mthiyane and Company, a law firm in Durban, as a candidate attorney and then as an associate, where he performed general law office work such as registering corporations, advising corporate directors, administering deceased persons’ estates and conducting criminal and civil trials.

In 1982 he moved to the Legal Resources Centre where he tried public interest civil and criminal cases involving issues such as the ejection of tenants from townships, the forced removal of black communities to homelands, influx control laws, police torture and assault, wrongful detentions, labour disputes, and the eviction of black squatters.

In 1985 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, and in 1986 he was the recipient of a Harvard Law School Human Rights Fellowship.

From July 1986 to July 1987, Chief Justice Ngcobo spent a year as the law clerk and research associate of the late Honourable A Leon Higginbotham Jr, the former Chief Judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Chief Justice Ngcobo also helped teach a seminar titled Race Values and the American Legal Process at the University of Pennsylvania, atHarvard Law School and at Stanford Law School.

From August to November 1987, Justice Ngcobo was a visiting foreign attorney at Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania where he specialised in labour law.

At the beginning of 1988, he returned to South Africa and took up the post of acting director of the Legal Aid Services Clinic of theUniversity of Natal, Durban. From August of that year, he taught a course on race legislation, also at the University of Natal.

From December 1988 to November 1989 he practised as an advocate in Durban. However, in December 1989, he returned to Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz where he expanded his specialisation to include immigration law.

In 1992 Justice Ngcobo returned to South Africa and practised as an advocate in Durban. His focus was labour and employment law, constitutional law and general practice. In 1994 he lectured part-time in constitutional litigation.

Chief Justice Ngcobo was a member of the Industrial Court of KwaZulu-Natal in 1993. In the same year he was also the co-ordinator of the Equal Opportunities Project of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies at the University of Natal.

In 1994 he was a presiding officer of the Independent Election Commission’s Electoral Tribunal.

From April 1996 to the end of August that year, Justice Ngcobo was an acting judge of the Supreme Court, Cape of Good Hope Provincial Division. In September 1996 he was made a judge of the same division. From January to December 1997, he was an acting judge of theLabour Appeal Court.

Chief Justice Ngcobo was also appointed to serve on the amnesty committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in February 1998.

In 1999 Justice Ngcobo was appointed the acting Judge President of the Labour Court and Labour Appeal Courts.

He has served as a member and as the chairperson of the Rules Board for Courts of Law. In February 1999 the University of Cape Townmade him an honorary professor of law.

Chief Justice Ngcobo has published many papers on topics such as justice, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, housing segregation and gender equality.

He is a trustee of the Dehler Foundation and is a former trustee of the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies.

Chief Justice Ngcobo replaced Chief Justice Pius Langa from October 2009. He served almost two years until August 2011 when he retired. Then President Jacob Zuma attempted to extend the term of office for the Chief Justice so that Chief Justice Ngcobo, and the South African Cabinet approved a bill so that a Chief Justice could serve in the position for seven years or until the age of 75. The attempts by the President and Cabinet were challenged in the courts, but before the challenge could be heard, Chief Justice Ngcobo indicated he would not accept the extension and would resign.

Selection of Judgments written