Hold judges to account, says Mogoeng

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: Mary-Ann Palmer
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Picture: Mary-Ann Palmer

Building an equal society requires dialogue,practical application of the Constitution and keeping in check those in office

“We need to look at how is it that, 25 years after we got our freedom, we still have people who don’t have homes; we still have racial, ethnic and gender discrimination; and we still have tribalism.”

A critical Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng delivered the 17th Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at the University of Johannesburg’s Soweto campus yesterday.

This year’s lecture was on “constitutionalism as an instrument for transformation”.

Speaking to a packed venue that included the likes of United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, Mamphela Ramphele and professor Njabulo Ndebele, Mogoeng said the purpose of his lecture was to look at the ills of our society.

According to him, something is amiss when, 25 years into democracy, it is rare to find women and black people in the high echelons of the corporate sector.

“Something is fundamentally wrong and we’ve got to confront it and come up with practical steps to give practical expression to constitutionalism in South Africa,” he said.

Mogoeng said very little was going to be accomplished for as long as “we allow our people to be ignorant of their rights in the Constitution.

“You can’t fight for what you don’t know. It is almost as if we take advantage of the ignorance of our people by not doing anything. The greatest facilitator of sustained injustice is keeping people ignorant of what they are entitled to.”

He told the audience that it was everyone’s responsibility to build the country.

Read: The scale at which we do wrong things tends to be on the extreme – Mogoeng

“Let us not waste time polarising society, wasting energy [looking on] as white and black people [remain] enemies.”

He said that “we must confront and expose any institution and anybody who practices discrimination.

“It is a shame that 25 years down the line inequality has become sharper than during apartheid.”

The country cannot blame all the issues that people are facing on colonialism and apartheid, he said.

“But anybody who says ‘stop blaming apartheid and colonialism’ is being mischievous. Most of the problems we have to contend with are direct consequences of colonialism and apartheid.”

He said it was absolutely necessary to never stop talking about colonialism and apartheid because “you leave those who’ve always believed in them to be comfortable.

“Doing so allows them to shape into a sophisticated way that it doesn’t quite look like it is discrimination when it fact it is.

“As a society, we need to be committed to fighting the injustice that we come across.

“Let us not forget that Madiba was committed to the fundamental human rights that are embodied in our Constitution, [for which] he was prepared to die.

“We need to ensure that the Constitution works for every South African.

You can’t fight for what you don’t know. It is almost as if we take advantage of the ignorance of our people by not doing anything. The greatest facilitator of sustained injustice is keeping people ignorant of what they are entitled to.
Mogoeng Mogoeng

“Therefore, because of the critical role the Constitution plays in transforming society, we owe it to ourselves and generations to come to not have compromised the judicial system.”

According to the Chief Justice, people should not be ignorant about who is appointed to the judiciary.

“You have to watch carefully how people are being interviewed. Sometimes you can tell that certain people are being shielded. You have to ask who is doing that and what is their agenda.

“How can you have an independent and competent judge who, when questions are sought to be put to him or her, people build a scrum around them?” he asked.

“Any candidate must demonstrate their capacity by fielding the toughest of questions.”

He said people need to criticise appointments to the judiciary.

“You must check who we associate with and check judgments when those people are involved.”

He said it is hypocritical to expect judges and government officials to commit to their oath of office when “we don’t play our role of keeping them in check.

“You must watch us closely, otherwise our constitutional democracy will be gone,” he said.

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