WITH the mission to find a new president for the country done and dusted, another struggle is well and truly under way: to find a new chief justice.

WITH the mission to find a new president for the country done and dusted, another struggle is well and truly under way: to find a new chief justice.

All indications are that it will be as rough a ride as the one that ended with Jacob Zuma being sworn in as President of the Republic on May 9.

Cape Judge President John Hlophe has come out as the "Zuma" of those seeking a new name on the door of the chief justice's Constitution Hill office.

If we are to take the flurry of support for Judge Hlophe into consideration, I can only come to one of two conclusions: either the entire black legal fraternity is made up of cowards who have allowed themselves to be run over by a conservative and racist white clique, or the race card is being used as a convenient scarecrow to avoid asking and answering some tough questions about the man who could be the chief justice.

The first instance will explain why the "racists" do not seem concerned about other black lawyers who are committed to the transformation of the judiciary.

The second proposition suggests that someone is using emotional blackmail - to marginalise whites who have misgivings about Hlophe's attributes but fear the hard-to-remove stigma of being branded a racist; and to appeal to the instincts of black people who have suffered at the hands of racists in virtually every area of South African life and are therefore sympathetic to a victim of racism, especially if that person is seen as championing that amorphous thing called transformation.

I refuse to believe that black lawyers are cowards who need to be rescued by Hlophe or no one else. If they are so cowardly, then they deserve their lot.

Hlophe's academic record - degrees from the universities of Natal (as it then was), Fort Hare and a doctorate from Cambridge make him a formidable lawyer. Even his detractors must concede that he is hardly ever in the news for legally questionable judgments.

That includes what his opponents like latching on to - the Delft case, which the Constitutional Court agreed with except that it extended its thinking to what should happen to the evicted after they had been removed.

What Hlophe's fans refuse to discuss is some of the blemishes on his record. He might or might not be the champion of transformation, but we cannot pretend not to know what we already know about him.

For example, we know that he told advocate Norman Arendse that he had given what is known as the Mikro School case to Judge Wilfred Thring because the latter "would f..k it up" and it would be overturned on appeal.

We know this not because "the racists" told us but because Arendse himself, who is a highly respected jurist and was at the time of revealing this information chairperson of the country's main advocates' organisation, the General Council of the Bar and headed the mainly black Advocates for Transformation, told us.

For his struggle credentials' sake, I wish I did not know that Hlophe had given a company from which he was receiving R10000 a month permission to sue a colleague, Judge Siraj Desai. Since Hlophe's fan club insists on making this an important point for consideration, let it be known that Desai happens to be black and is known to be politically progressive.

I for one accept that the honourable Hlophe told the truth when he told the JSC that he had received permission from justice minister Dullah Omar to receive the monthly payments. Omar, of course, could not corroborate this because he was dead by then.

We also know that in June 2006 the JSC was asked to investigate complaints that Hlophe's son received a bursary from a Cape Town firm of attorneys. The firm had defended the bursary on grounds that the scheme was aimed at helping "disadvantaged" students. A partner at the firm, Derek Wille, was known to have been a university friend of Hlophe's and the judge president had on several occasions appointed him as an acting judge.

Confronted with this, Hlophe told the JSC that he did not know who was paying for his son's education and that is where the matter ended.

Hlophe stands accused of trying to influence two Constitutional Court judges - Bess Nkabinde and Chris Jafta - in a matter relating to President Jacob Zuma. Again we know this because the two judges - who are black and another also female - told us so.

I am willing to be persuaded that these "facts" that I know are anything but. Until I am presented with why I should not consider them, please spare me another sob story about a victimised darkie.

Black people have been in power since April 1994 and if transformation in state institutions is not happening fast enough then they - not the racists - should take the blame.