Personal details

Justice Sandile Ngcobo was born in Durban on 1 March 1953. He is married to Zandile and they have three children: a daughter, Nokwanda, and two sons, Ayanda and Manqoba.


In 1975 Ngcobo graduated from the University of Zululand with a B Proc (Bachelor of Law), earning distinctions in constitutional law, mercantile law and accounting. From 1983 to 1985 he studied for an LLB at the University of Natal, Durban.

In 1985 he completed an orientation course on the United States' legal system, given by the International Law Institute at the Georgetown Law Center in Washington DC. From 1985 to 1986 he attended Harvard Law School, where he studied for an LLM. He concentrated on constitutional law, labour law, international legal process and international human rights.

Ngcobo was the beneficiary of a scholarship from Barclays Bank between 1973 and 1976. In 1985 he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and in 1986 he was the recipient of a Harvard Law School Human Rights Fellowship.

Professional history

Ngcobo was in detention from 1976 to July 1977. From September 1977 to April 1978 he worked in the Maphumulo magistrate's office.

Ngcobo then joined KK Mthiyane and Company, a law firm in Durban. As an articled clerk and then as an associate attorney, 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, also in Durban. Here, as an attorney at law, 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.

His Supreme Court experience involved preparing pleadings and briefs, and preparing cases for trial and appeal. Cases involved the unlawful transfer of teachers, the cancellation of black pupils' matriculation results and the cancellation of medical students' scholarships.

Then, from July 1986 to July 1987, 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. Ngcobo's duties included researching and preparing legal memoranda on issues before the court. He also researched the role of law in American and South African societies, and, in particular, its use to perpetuate and eradicate social injustice.

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

From August to November 1987 Ngcobo was a visiting foreign attorney at Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 the University 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. But in December 1989 he returned to Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz in Philadelphia, where he was an associate attorney in a firm of about 300 lawyers. He specialised in labour and immigration law.

In 1992 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.

From April 1996 to the end of August that year, 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 the Labour Appeal Court; in November that year he was appointed a judge of the court.

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

Other activities

Ngcobo was a member of the Industrial Court of KwaZulu 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, Durban.

In 1994 he was a presiding officer of the Independent Election Commission's Electoral Tribunal. Ngcobo was also appointed to serve on the amnesty committee of the Truth And Reconciliation Commission in February 1998.

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 Town made him an honorary professor of law.

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.

Service on the Constitutional Court

  • Justice 1999 - 2009 Appointed by President Nelson Mandela
  • Elevated by President Jacob Zuma to Chief Justice 2009 - 2011

JSC Interview
JSC Interview For Position of Chief Justice