Guest Column

With the Bill of Rights under siege, Mogoeng is a beacon of hope

2017-06-30 06:37
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng

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Anneke Scheepers

I once asked my English teacher in High School why we were forced to learn sad poems and read tragic novels. She responded by saying that it is through life’s tragedies that we learn the most valuable lessons. 

The lesson to be learnt from the passing of Suna Venter and the proxy-protest outside of the home of Peter Bruce is that freedom and security of person and freedom of expression – as enshrined in Chapter 2 of our Constitution – are under siege.

Freedom of association is under threat. The right to human dignity is under threat. Freedom of the press is equally under threat.

South Africa faces a dark time in our history. The instances we see unfolding before us, risking and threatening lives, are not coincidental. They are interlinked and they all emanate from an illegitimate corner or so-called ‘shadow government.’ As the shadow grips us more, our country moves ever further away from the values of Madiba’s rainbow nation.

There are very few leaders today who still exemplify Madiba’s values. The former Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, is one and the Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, thankfully, is another.

Few and far between

Women are being brutalised, state coffers are being plundered and members of the fourth estate are being threatened and intimidated precisely for having the voice that they ought to. As we navigate these damning crises, it is the likes of Mogoeng, those hard at work defending our democracy, who are a beacon of promise for us all.

When Mogoeng was elected as president of the Conference of Constitutional Jurisdictions of Africa (CCJA) at its fourth congress earlier this year, he delivered a key note address that is among the most impactful that I’ve heard (Watch it here).

He roared against the ills of corruption by quoting former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan who said,

“Corruption is an insidious plague that has a wide range of corrosive effects on societies.  It undermines democracy and the rule of law, leads to violations of human rights, distorts markets, erodes the quality of life, and allows organized crime, terrorism and other threats to human security to flourish.”

He warned the members of the judiciary to be diligent and to stay within the confines of what is right. Mogoeng stands for the principle that we must all uphold the law and champion the spirit of our Constitution. He is its chief defender. 

As we all should be, Mogoeng is burdened with the responsibility of ensuring that our state succeeds by upholding the dignity of its guide, the Constitution. I say ‘as we all should be’ because we each have the duty of ensuring that our democracy succeeds.

Like Madiba who said that a free democracy is an ideal for which he was prepared to die, Mogoeng declared that jurists “need to be men and women of integrity and… should be predictable, honest and principled… Even if you want to kill him, he or she is like those judges in Ghana whose bodies were found lying dead somewhere. I believe they died because they were principled… it is time to embrace the spirit of our forebears, the readiness to die for a just cause.”  

The driving force within Mogoeng's message stands in stark contrast with the sense of loss at the news of the passing of Suna Venter. She too was a hard-working and diligent South African, who like Mogoeng, took her charge to heart. Venter was one of the ‘SABC 8’ who was fired for opposing the decision taken by former SABC COO, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, to no longer air footage of violent protests. Despite having been reinstated, she faced ongoing threats and attacks and was even kidnapped. Her family believe these incidents to be what led to her death.

The news of her passing has been a tragic shock to many. This while a Gupta front protested outside the private residence of Peter Bruce, a renowned newspaper editor. The irony is painful as it is blatant: they are in fact protesting on behalf of monopoly capital and not against it.

For a democracy to flourish, every actor must play its part. Mogoeng’s remarks should not be confined to jurists but should prompt us to take the defence of our Constitution and our democracy seriously.

- Anneke Scheepers is a former Politics and Cultural Studies lecturer and is currently the DA's Gauteng Communications Manager. She writes in her personal capacity.

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Read more on:    mogoeng ­mogoeng  |  democracy  |  freedom of expression
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