Mogoeng and Masutha at war

2014-11-30 15:00

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Justice Minister Mike Masutha wants to meet with Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng so that the country’s most senior jurist can explain his public, and very scathing, attack on the minister.

In a speech made at Unisa on Tuesday night, Mogoeng said Masutha was only releasing funds to the office of the chief justice “begrudgingly”, accused him of taking a “retrogressive approach” by excluding the judiciary from the appointment of a chief operations officer for the office of the chief justice and spoke of the “reinvigorated quest of the past years to throttle judicial independence”.

On Friday, Mogoeng repeated concerns about the “embarrassment of having to beg for money” to Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice.

According to the Superior Courts Act, Mogoeng is the administrative head of the courts. But the office of the chief justice is dependent on the minister of justice for financing.

In an interview earlier this week, Masutha expressed his disappointment about Mogoeng’s speech.

“All I can say is that I would have expected the chief justice to have approached me on matters like that for a meeting, or at least conveyed those messages in writing to us rather than take to a public platform.”

Masutha said he would first have to acquaint himself with the actual text of the speech and also clarify “what would have been the reason for him to have opted for that particular forum, as opposed to the normal channels”.

His spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, confirmed that the minister would seek a meeting with Mogoeng.

But a senior justice department official confirmed that media reports about Mogoeng’s speech had created a lot of unhappiness within the department. Of specific concern is an SABC report in which Mogoeng mentions concerns about dictatorships in Africa.

Irate justice department officials said it was ironic that Mogoeng was talking about dictatorships when he was set to meet with the notorious Swazi Chief Justice Michael Ramodibedi the day after his speech was delivered.

But Mogoeng’s office has pointed out that his meeting with Ramodibedi was an official visit that was part of a planned intervention requested by the Southern African Development Community Lawyers’ Association and the justices of the Constitutional Court.

Ramodibedi has been harshly criticised by human rights organisations because of the role he played in the imprisonment and subsequent conviction of respected Swazi editor Bheki Makhubu and human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko.

Amnesty International said the action taken against Makhubu and Maseko, who wrote articles critical of Ramodibedi, was tantamount to “judicial retribution”.

City Press has established that Mogoeng and Ramodibedi attended a church service together after their meeting.

According to a report that appeared on The Times of Swaziland’s website on Wednesday, Mogoeng, The Times of Swaziland and the Swazi minister of justice and constitutional affairs, Sibusiso Shongwe, were “anointed with holy oil” during a “miracle night” of the Redeemed Christian Church of God Swaziland.

“Both the chief justices solemnly knelt before the anointing pastor and held their hands in the air as a sign of the cross was drawn on their foreheads,” the newspaper reported.

A link to The Times of Swaziland article was sent to Mogoeng for comment, but his office did not respond to specific questions. It did, however, confirm he had attended a church service after meeting with Ramodibedi and other members of the Swazi judiciary.

A top senior counsel who frequently appears in the Constitutional Court lauded Mogoeng’s speech and said that friction between Mogoeng and Masutha “can only do us good”.

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