Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng raised serious concerns about the separation of church and the judiciary by ordering top judges to attend a leadership conference by an American evangelist, according to reports on Thursday.
In an email sent on behalf of Mogoeng, to heads of court, judges president, their deputies and were "requested to be available" for an evangelical leadership conference that was held in Kempton Park, Johannesburg on Monday, the Mail & Guardian Online reported.
The Mail & Guardian was in possession of the email sent by Memme Sejosengwe, the chief director of court performance.
Sejosengwe's email was sent out "by direction of the chief justice" and "requested" the presence of judges including the judge president of the Supreme Court of Appeals, Lex Mpati, the judge president of the Western Cape, John Hlophe, and the judge president of KwaZulu-Natal, Chiman Patel.
Mogoeng told the Business Day that he did not compel any judge to attend the course. He said the reports were doing a "disservice to our country" to "take things out of context and to sensationalise".
Since 2005, a committee looking into allegations of racism in the judiciary, headed by former chief justice Pius Langa, had identified a need for leadership training for heads of court, he said.
"So when I saw this, I just thought: wow, here is an opportunity to expose those colleagues who are willing and able," Mogoeng was quoted as saying.
"Nobody was compelled to do anything."
According to the Mail & Guardian Online a legal academic, who did not want to be named, said the language used in the email "was judicial language for 'you must go'".
The legal fraternity was reportedly astonished and outraged by the chief justice's order.
Mogoeng's spokesperson, Lulama Luti told the newspaper that none of the justices invited had attended the conference.