CAPE TOWN, March 10 (Reuters) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has appointed experienced jurist Raymond Zondo as the country's new chief justice effective April 1, the presidency said in a statement on Thursday following a public selection process.

Zondo, who has served as deputy chief justice at the Constitutional Court for the last five years, became the public face of Ramaphosa's anti-corruption drive while heading a recent national inquiry into allegations of widespread graft under former President Jacob Zuma during his nearly a decade as head of state.

Last year the country's highest Constitutional Court sentenced Zuma to 15 months imprisonment after he failed to appear at the Zondo corruption inquiry despite being instructed to.

In January, the inquiry's first published report pointed to systemic graft during Zuma's tenure, following three years of investigation and more than 300 witnesses.

Ramaphosa replaced Zuma as president in 2018 after narrowly defeating him at a ruling African National Congress party elective conference a few months prior.

"The Chief Justice stand as the champion of the rights of all South Africans and bears responsibility for ensuring equal access to justice. I have every confidence that Justice Zondo will acquit himself with distinction in this position," Ramaphosa said in a statement.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; editing by Jonathan Oatis)