PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma says Cape Judge President John Hlophe could still become the country's chief justice.

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma says Cape Judge President John Hlophe could still become the country's chief justice.

But yesterday he nominated constitutional court judge Sandile Ngcobo for the job.

Hlophe is currently facing allegations that he had tried to influence two Constitutional court judges.

The complaint revolves around a conversation he had last year with acting Judge Chris Jafta, who had been seconded from the supreme court of appeal, and Judge Bess Nkabinde.

Zuma dismissed claims that he overlooked Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke because of remarks Moseneke had previously made about the ANC.

Yesterday Zuma said he nominated Ngcobo "without being influenced by anything".

He also said he was not aware that Hlophe was campaigning for appointment as chief justice.

Political parties and NGOs reacted to the announcement yesterday.

The Black Lawyers Association's deputy chairperson Sithembile Mgxaji said Ngcobo's nomination was welcomed.

But, he said Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke has a great track record and integrity, and they would have expected him to get the position.

Chairperson of the Cape Bar Advocate Jeremy Muller referred to Ngcobo as a very able man who will make a great chief justice.

Cope's spokesperson Phillip Dexter said "while we don't want to attack Judge Ngcobo as an individual, there is nothing outstanding in his credentials.

"It shows that there is a trend of people who are not independent minded being appointed because they have never criticised President Zuma."

The DA and ID both declined to comment, saying they would first express their views to Zuma when he consulted with leaders of the opposition parties on his decision.

But the African Christian Democratic Party echoed Cope's comments and said Moseneke had been sidelined from the position "because of his criticism of the ANC".

UDM leader Bantu Holomisa differed, saying Ngcobo, as a founding Constitutional Court judge would bring stability to the judiciary.

"Judge Ngcobo's first major task should be to wrap up this negative story about Cape Judge President John Hlophe so that the judiciary can restore its tarnished image," he said.

The SACP praised the move, saying Ngcobo was the man to transform the judiciary in favour of "farm workers who are evicted on a daily basis and victims of racist murderers".

"We want a judicial system that cares about the rights of ordinary people and not those who have money," said SACP spokesperson Malesela Maleka.

The Justice for Hlophe Alliance's Percy Gumbi said they were disappointed that their candidate Hlophe had not been given the job but that they welcomed Ngcobo's appointment.