'SA faces a war if we don’t unite'

Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, gave a comprehensive response to the questions raised after his speech in Stellenbosch last week. Photo MARY-ANN PALMER
Chief Justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, gave a comprehensive response to the questions raised after his speech in Stellenbosch last week. Photo MARY-ANN PALMER

South Africans have failed Nelson Mandela’s unity and reconciliation project, but with the right leadership, the country could be an example to the world, said a visibly upset Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng during an interview with City Press this week.

He added that, without unity and reconciliation, there could be a war.

On Tuesday, after the African Union summit in Ethiopia, Mogoeng said: “Mandela started something and invested the better part of his life in freedom, in that project, and yet we have not followed through with it.”

He said many had believed Mandela would be vindictive after he was released from prison, but Mandela “wanted what was best, not just for black people, but for black people and white people. It was something that he was prepared to die for.”

He said that, after Mandela, nobody had championed the cause without compromising principles and “with that deep sense of appreciation that racial division is what explains the painful past that we have”.

If this issue wasn’t properly handled, “we may find ourselves fighting one another again in the future. Or even if we don’t fight, deep into the future, our children, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren may revisit the fights and wars of the past.”

He said South Africans seemed to think that things would automatically work themselves out, but the divisions of the past needed a “deliberate and thoroughgoing programme”, which would “require a very mature, calm and wise leadership”.

“You don’t want people who appeal to emotions there, you don’t want anybody who has any score to settle there, you need somebody, for want of a better expression, who really cares about and loves all South Africans regardless of colour,” he said.

“Because, when you come across that kind of a person or those kinds of people, it’s never going to matter whether they are insulted or praised, the cause is just too grave to be sentimental about. It goes to the fundamentals of what needs to be put right for all South Africans, regardless of colour and creed, to flourish,” Mogoeng said, breaking down.

“We have more than enough for everybody, and we have many able and well-meaning people in our country from all races and genders to help us get to where we need to be. We just have to identify them.”

Self-serving and divisive narratives were now a trend, he said.

“It’s time for unifying and for action, however long it may take, but that will take us to where colour and gender or creed does not matter. It’s a project that requires resources and people who work on it on a full-time basis.”

Mogoeng said that, if South Africans thought more deeply about our problems, “we would turn out to be that shining example of unity, reconciliation and prosperity that Africa and the rest of the world needs”.

He said that, despite South Africa’s past, “because we were able to agree on the constitutional dispensation that we now have, there is nothing good that we cannot achieve. But it requires all of us together.”

The country needs a critical mass of leaders “who are not in it for their pockets, who are not in it for fame or recognition, but who are in it for the advancement of the best interests of the people of South Africa, the people of Africa and the people of the world. Otherwise, we take our attention off what matters, quite frankly. It pains me. We would be very far by now if we hadn’t allowed ourselves to be derailed.”

Never too late to turn things around

However, he said it was never too late to turn things around.

“We need a good number of those who are interested in the well-being of South Africans. That one match, strike it and, before long, the whole country would be set ablaze. It would be impossible to suppress a good vision forever. You can delay its implementation, but you can never succeed in effectively undermining efforts designed to benefit the many.”

Mogoeng warned against playing into divisions and emotions.

“Everybody wants you to say what they like all the time. If you ever say anything that they don’t like, it means you hate them; it means you have an agenda.

“I believe the best is around the corner. I don’t know how it will come for sure, but I’m confident of one thing: we are going to be surprised by how fast South Africa is going to turn around, and by the process that is going to be followed to get us there. We are going to be so, so great and so amazing.”

’My phones are bugged – all of them’

Mogoeng says phone-tapping and espionage are a reality that we must live with – and he’s had first-hand experience of it.

After the AU summit ended on Monday, Mogoeng reacted to allegations that the Chinese had bugged the AU’s information systems until last year, saying it was “predictable”.

Even during former US president Barack Obama’s tenure, reports of the US spying on world leaders were not denied.

Mogoeng said he once had a strange experience when he had a meeting scheduled “with a very powerful person back home”.

His curiosity was “disturbingly strong” and “there really wasn’t anything that would bring us together” to have such a meeting.

“I then asked a person who works for him what is was that caused so and so to be so desperate to have a meeting with me. As I was sending out the message, something said to me that he was going to know about the message. And, as it turned out, within an hour of having that meeting, he cancelled,” he said.

Mogoeng said his instinct that this person could tap phones was correct.

He said he had been told that it was easy for private people with the right equipment to tap a phone and monitor calls.

“So I know without any doubt that my phones are bugged – all of them, without any exception.”

He said that, even though it’s illegal to tap a phone without a court’s permission, he’d been told that this happened even via satellite from outside the country.

“It’s a reality that we must live with; you must reconcile yourself with that reality,” Mogoeng said.

“Happily, I don’t say anything that I can’t repeat. Not even in the bedroom.”

It doesn’t stop with phone tapping, however. The Chief Justice’s offices in Midrand were robbed last year and 15 computers containing the personal information of judges were stolen.

Two people were arrested and appeared in court, and security was significantly increased after the incident.

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