Emeritus Justice Sisi Khampepe, who recently retired as a Judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, has been appointed the new Chancellor of the University of Pretoria (UP) with effect from 28 June 2022.
Justice Khampepe will take over the role of Chancellor from Professor Wiseman Nkuhlu, who was inaugurated as the Chancellor of UP in March 2007 and served from 2007 to 2022. UP Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe said, “We are grateful for Professor Nkuhlu’s outstanding contribution and commitment to the University over the past 15 years. His term as Chancellor will expire on 27 June 2022.”
Justice Khampepe was elected by the Electoral College of the University, which met virtually on 19 May 2022, explicitly for the purpose of electing the new Chancellor by secret ballot. The electoral college comprises members of Council and Senate, and the President of the Convocation.
She will serve as UP’s Chancellor for five years, from 28 June 2022 to 27 June 2027, with the possibility of appointment for a further consecutive term, subject to due process.
Prof Kupe said, “We are delighted to have Emeritus Justice Sisi Khampepe appointed as Chancellor. She has made an indelible mark in legal circles and will have much to contribute to UP.”
Chairman of the UP Council, Kuseni Dlamini welcomed and congratulated Justice Khampepe on her election. “With four decades of service in the legal field, 12 of them in the Constitutional Court, Justice Khampepe, affectionately known as ‘SK’, is celebrated for her role in strengthening the rule of law in South Africa, her judicial bravery and her firm commitment to justice for everyone.
“She is as a jurist of vast intellect, uncompromising integrity, inimitable style, humour, warmth, kindness, humility, grace and quiet strength. In every respect, she is a true ambassador for South Africa. She epitomises the values and character that UP requires in its Chancellor and the qualities we seek to develop in our students,” said Dlamini.
Prof Kupe added that during her time on the bench, Justice Khampepe eloquently developed jurisprudence in the rights of women, children and vulnerable members of society and entrenched the legal duty to prohibit gender-based violence. Her legacy is well documented in the many judgments she has written, including her legendary last two judgments before retiring, relating to the work of the State Capture Commission of Inquiry. “These served to strengthen the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law.”
In a statement on her retirement, Constitutional Court Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said: “On behalf of my colleagues in the Constitutional Court and the judiciary as a whole, I wish to express our deep appreciation to Justice Khampepe for her selfless service to the people of South Africa, for her commitment to the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, for her role in strengthening our constitutional democracy during her term of office as a Justice of the Constitutional Court and for her immense contribution to our jurisprudence.”
Justice Khampepe’s judicial career started with her appointment as a Judge of the Gauteng Division of the High Court in December 2000. She later served as Acting Deputy Judge President of the Labour Appeals Court and Labour Court. In October 2009, she was appointed to South Africa’s Constitutional Court, where she served for 12 years, twice as the Acting Deputy Chief Justice.
Justice Khampepe served in key positions throughout her career. In 1995, she was appointed by late President Nelson Mandela as one of the commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 2004, former President Thabo Mbeki appointed her, together with Emeritus Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, to lead the Judicial Observer Mission during the Zimbabwean elections. From 2005 to 2006, she chaired the Khampepe Commission, an enquiry into the mandate and location of the Directorate of Special Operations, also known as the Scorpions. From 2005 to 2020 she was Chairperson of the National Council of Correctional Services. Justice Khampepe has been involved in a wide range of legal and community organisations.
She was born on 8 January 1957 in Soweto and obtained her B Proc from the University of Zululand in 1980 and her LLM degree at Harvard Law School, Massachusetts, USA in 1982. She began her legal career as a legal advisor in the Industrial Aid Society, where she participated in a vacation employment programme. Here she was exposed to the dishonourable employment conditions of black workers. Between the years 1981 and 1983, she served as a fellow in the Legal Resources Centre.
In 1983, she joined Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys as a candidate attorney. After being admitted as an attorney in 1985, she established her own law firm, practising under the name SV Khampepe Attorneys. Her law firm was especially renowned for defending the rights of workers against unjust laws and unfair employment practices.
She represented unions affiliated to both NACTU and COSATU. She was the national legal advisor of SACAWU and the administrator of union funds in FIET and ICFTU. She was then employed by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development as Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions, a post she held from September 1998 to December 1999.
In February 2006, the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, the Rt Hon Donald C McKinnon, seconded her as a member of the Commonwealth Observer Group to the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Uganda.
She was Vice-Chairperson of the National Council of Correctional Services from 2005 to April 2010.