By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has denied that he in any way sought to influence chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng "whose independence I have always respected"
He said his reference to judge Dhaya Pillay during a meeting with the chief justice in 2016 was "purely incidental".
In a letter to the Judicial Services Commission, he said he wished to provide clarity on comments made by Mogoeng during the interview with Pillay, in which he cllaimed Gordhan had approached him to ask how his "close friend" had fared.
The exchange took place in 2016, when Pillay had applied for a post on the Supreme Court of Appeal.
At her interview on Tuesday, for a position on the Constitutional Court, she came under fire from the EFF's Julius Malema for her apparent friendship with Gordhan, which she did not dispute.
However, the chief justice remarked that the 2016 incident with Gordhan had stuck in his mind, and he questioned why he had been approached by the then-minister of finance.
Gordhan, in his letter, said that he did not have a complete recollection of the meeting but at the time there were issues with fiscus constraints, the appointment of a retired judge as tax ombud, the separation of the budget of the judiciary from the Department of Justice, and a recent judgment which required National Treasury to determine reasonable costs of security upgrades for the then-president.
"According to my records, the CJ agreed to meet me in Cape Town on April 6 2016, to discuss one or more of the above matters.
"Judge Pillay is a friend and comrade of long standing. She was also the partner of the late Yunus Mohammed, a close comrade in the anti-apartheid struggle and with whom I worked in the formation of civics in the UDF, and in the ANC underground.
"As I recall, after the completion of a cordial discussion, I, in passing, did refer to judge Pillay’s interview with the JSC. He responded and I left.
"Though, like the CJ, I cannot recall the contents of the meeting, I did not meet him to discuss judge Pillay. It was entirely incidental to the purpose of the meeting."
Gordhan said, at that time, it was already public knowledge that judge Pillay had not been recommended for appointment to the SCA.
He said he had met with Mogoeng with the intention to renew tax ombud Judge Ngoepe’s appointment in October 2016 when Gordhan was still minister of finance.
"It was my intention to renew his contract for a further three years, commencing October 2016 and I conveyed this intention to the Chief Justice."
Gordhan said the JSC acknowledged receipt of his letter on Wednesday morning.