Newsmaker 2011: Five weeks in the hot seat

2011-12-23 12:19

‘An injury by one is an injury by all.” These were the words famously used by Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng to kick off his term as Chief Justice of South Africa.

Although his office later claimed it was an intentional reinvention of the well-known saying “an injury to one is an injury to all”, Mogoeng might as well have been referring to the “five weeks of merciless attacks” he sustained in the media.

Never before has a chief justice been subjected to so much scrutiny and criticism of not only his professional career, but his personal views.

Civil society groups, bar councils and even labour unions weighed in, arguing that Mogoeng was relatively inexperienced, easy on the abuse of women’s rights, tough on gays and had previously even defended the death penalty.

The Judicial Service Commission has never received so many submissions on the appointment of a chief justice.

Mogoeng’s nomination and riveting interview, broadcast live on TV, dominated headlines for weeks.

Tensions ran high as Mogoeng’s now deputy, Judge Dikgang Moseneke, asked him why he thought he was suitable to be the “intellectual leader of the judiciary”.

Mogoeng retorted: “In all humility, I have to say I have no doubts about my intellectual depth.” He later asked Moseneke not to be “sarcastic” in his questions.

During the interview, Mogoeng defended his record as a prosecutor and a judge. He said his church’s views were based on the teachings of the Bible and he pointed out that he was the third most experienced Constitutional Court judge in terms of time served.

Jacob Zuma came out in strident support of Mogoeng and the process.

During a time where an increasing rift has developed between the executive and the judiciary, Mogoeng will play a crucial role in managing a potential breakdown in trust.

He will also head the newly established Office of the Chief Justice, which has taken over the running of the courts.

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