Newsmaker – Quiet Mogoeng inspires pride

2011-08-20 15:34

Mme Gabaipone Mogoeng (76) feared the strange visitors were bringing bad news about one of her three sons. After all, not many strangers dropped by her home in the rural village of Goo-Mokgatlha, north-east of Zeerust in North West.

When she learnt that the strangers were journalists from a radio station, she was even more confused.

What she did not know then was that her eldest son, Mogoeng Mogoeng (50), was this week nominated by President Jacob Zuma as a candidate for the position of chief justice of the country.

Zuma nominated Mogoeng to replace former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo, whose term of office ended on Sunday.

In terms of the Constitution, Zuma should appoint the chief justice after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission and parties in the National Assembly.

However, opposition parties have raised concerns about Mogoeng’s nomination, saying he lacked the required experience and questioned why he was nominated ahead of judges who had been on the bench for much longer.

Legal veterans such as Arthur Chaskalson and Pius Langa have previously held the position.

But in the neglected streets of Goo-Mokgatlha, villagers expressed pride about the man they remembered as “a very intelligent and quiet boy.”

It was not difficult finding the modest brick house where Mogoeng was born on January?14 1961.

“Re ipela ka ene (we are proud of him),” villagers, wearing smiles as wide as slices of watermelon, responded in Setswana when asked for directions to his home.

Goo-Mokgatlha was not very different from many other rural villages in the country. Villagers drew water in an assortment of containers from communal taps, donkey carts remained a trusted mode of transport and modern brick houses stood side by side with weather-beaten earth built houses.

The Mogoeng home, a flat-roofed brick house painted lime green, stood on a large plot in one of the narrow sandy streets.

“If we still had cattle, one was definitely going to fall,” said Mme Gabaipone rubbing her hands excitedly. “He has made us so proud.”

Naomi Modisane (70), who taught Mogoeng in Grade 1 back in 1968, said she never thought that such an under-developed village would one day produce a man of such stature.

After hearing the news on the radio she couldn’t stop telling neighbours that she had taught him as a little boy.

“It’s been such a long time,” said the retired Modisane. “But I remember he was just a simple boy who was very quiet and respectful. He was very neat and unlike other children his age, he never played around, standing on desks and making a noise. He was very, very intelligent. You could tell he was going to be someone important in the community, but even then I never thought he would achieve something as big as this.”

Mogoeng’s brother Daniel (48) said when they were growing up his brother seldom left home, preferring to bury his nose in books.

“He never had many friends. Those who were close to him were those who liked books, like him, and they would always come to see him here at home. He was very quiet and didn’t laugh at stupid jokes. Even when he laughed it would just be a little laugh,” said Daniel.

Daniel remembered with a chuckle that his brother was very thin and would often stay away from school when it rained because he shivered.

“If I was older, I would say I raised him because I’m the one who would help to keep him warm by making a fire during such times,” Daniel said.

Mme Gabaipone added that her son was so quiet at times she wondered if he wasn’t perhaps involved in crime.

But she found comfort in the fact that he seldom missed services at the local Lutheran Church, did well at school and never once complained about having to herd the family’s cattle.

“In those days people used to say JC (Grade 10) was very difficult. But this one passed it with stars (distinction),” said the proud mother.

When he completed his matric he informed his parents that he wanted to study law and become a magistrate. But his father said he wanted him to be a doctor instead.

“He said no, I want to be a magistrate. So I said to his father, let him do what he wants because if you force him to study this and things go wrong he is going to blame us,” says Mme Gabaipone.

His studies towards a B Juris degree at the University of Zululand were financed by his father who worked in a factory in Krugersdorp.

When money was scarce, the family would sell cattle to cover his fees.

Mme Gabaipone insisted that if thieves had not cleaned out the family’s kraal a few years ago, the same cattle that helped to educate Mogoeng would now be sacrificed to celebrate this milestone.

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