Justice Mandisa Maya was born in Tsolo, Eastern Cape and grew up in King William’s Town and Mthatha where she matriculated from St John’s College.

She obtained the following degrees: BProc from the University of the Transkei (now Walter Sisulu University), 1986; LLB from the University of Natal, Durban, 1988; and She was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to study LLM (Labour Law – Alternative Dispute Resolution and Constitutional Law) from Duke University School of Law, United States of America, 1990.


She commenced her legal career as an Assistant State Law Adviser in Mthatha in 1991 and in 1994 she was admitted to the Transkei Bar. She has served as a member of the judiciary in various capacities since July 1999 and was appointed as a member of the Bench in the Supreme Court of Appeal in May 2006. She was appointed as Deputy President of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2015 and as Acting President of the Supreme Court of Appeal in 2016. In May 2017 she became the first woman President of the Supreme Court of Appeal.

She has been a member of the Black Lawyers Association, the National Association for Democratic Lawyers and the Commonwealth Association of Law Reform Agencies. In 2004 she founded the South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges and remains actively involved as a member of this organisation. She also holds various leadership and advisory roles in organisations such as Lawyers Against Violence, the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public, Human Rights and International Law, and the South African Judicial Education Institute. She has served as a member (and Chairperson) of the South African Law Reform Commission since 2013 and as a board member of the South African Journal on Human Rights.

In 2012 she was the recipient of the South African Women Lawyers Icon award. She was honoured for the role she plays in empowering and mentoring women in both the judiciary and the broader legal profession.

She is involved in many community-based organisations, including the Transkei Women Zenzele Association and the Women’s Economic advancement Group (Pty) Ltd. In so doing she makes a valuable and substantial contribution to the promotion of women’s rights. 


Her extra-curial activities, and particularly her community activism, reflect a deep commitment to the values of the Constitution. Through her appointment as President of the Supreme Court of Appeal, she has become a symbol of gender transformation, and is an important role-player in the promotion of cultural and gender rights and equality.

She has delivered a considerable number of judgments during her judicial career. These judgments span wide ranging and intricate legal issues and demonstrate her comprehensive knowledge of the law. She is held in high esteem by the legal fraternity and has a reputation for integrity and independence. She is described as an independent-minded judge who is sensitive to the implications of gender-based violence and socio-economic inequalities in South African society. The advocates who have appeared before her have commended her “fine grasp of a board spectrum of the law” and “her clear sensitivity to the vulnerability of women and children” in submissions to the Judicial Service Commission. It is thus not surprising that the Constitutional Court has upheld many of her judgments. A notable example is her dissenting minority judgment in Minister of Safety and Security v F 2011 (3) SA 487 (SCA). The matter involved a claim for damages arising from the rape of a woman by an off-duty policeman. The majority of the Court held that the Minister was not vicariously liable as the policeman was not on duty at the time of the rape. In her minority judgment, She focused on the constitutional role entrusted to the police and the responsibility of police officers to conduct themselves properly to foster the community’s trust in this institution. The Constitutional Court upheld Justice Maya’s judgment in F v Minister of Safety and Security 2012 (1) SA 536 (CC).

It is submitted that Justice Maya embodies the values of the Nelson Mandela University and is deserving of an honorary doctoral degree. She has made a significant contribution to the development of law in South Africa and has rendered service of distinction in South African society. She is committed to the promotion of the South African constitutional democracy and the protection of human rights, specifically the achievement of equality and the protection of the dignity of vulnerable members of society. She is a credit to the judiciary and her appointment as the first woman President of the Supreme Court of Appeal is indicative of her expertise and leadership qualities.