JUSTICE AND AN ERA OF EXCELLENT JUDGES
Written for DiaLOGOS by Cheryllyn Dudley (Former Member of Parliament, Political Analyst and Author)
At this time when two Justices have reached retirement age, Chief Justice Mogoeng as well as Justice Japhta, there is some concern as to whether it is possible that we have reached the end of an era of excellent judges. A valid concern for anyone paying attention to the antics of some on the Judicial Services Commission (those who interview and shortlist judges) during recent interviews.
Former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng interestingly was appointed by the controversial former President Jacob Zuma – an appointment that was strongly opposed by many mostly on ‘religious grounds’. Or more specifically because of his Christian faith. It was assumed that he would be biased and his convictions would override his commitment to the constitution. Not an entirely unreasonable assumption in hindsight.
In the words of my learned friend Bongani Khanyile Ka Luthuli, an attorney and so much more “The favour of the Lord placed former Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the head of the Constitutional Court and not necessarily his judicial abilities and talents. He was largely the least qualified of his colleagues having only been in the Court for 2 years when he was appointed.”
This in itself can reassure us that despite what we see and assume, to be ‘the best judges’ for this next season, God has His plan, our job is to NOT PANIC!
As Bongani says Mogoeng professed his faith unashamedly and in doing so, he became a moral conscience of the nation and an evangelist. He also boldly defended Israel in the face of condemnation and in the process will be remembered by many as a great ambassador for Christ.
I too hold former Chief Justice Moegeng in high regard but wondered on more than one occasion at what seemed to be a tendency to get too political, considering his role as a justice of the peace. From my minimally informed perspective, I did expect him to be more circumspect and to let his judgments speak for themselves and I still hold this view. Having said this I am fully aware that I can be wrong and I am grateful that God gets to be God. I always imagine how amazing it will be one day when we get to see and understand ‘all’ in His presence.
I also know however that the nature of Mogoeng would have been well known to Our Maker and Mogoengs actions and responses would have come as no surprise to Him.
Landa Cope, author of God and Political Justice, who I love to quote, at the end of her chapter on Joshua and the Judges, comments that: “the moral decline of the people seems to precede the moral decline of their political leadership…”. “Is this where some believers in history got the concept that we get the political leadership we deserve?” she says. For God’s part she continues “he does nothing but increase his efforts to get Israel to listen”, “God’s emphasis is on God’s people ceasing to be God’s people” not the unbeliever or the leaders. “When Gods people turn back to God, he delivers them.”
Concepts contained in God and political Justice regarding justice, that provide food for thought and prayer include: the need to accept the imperfection of the world; making society as ‘just’ as possible by serving, preserving and blessing; measuring political systems by the quality of justice the system secures for the poorest of the poor and weakest of the weak; working with whatever political leadership we have; not accepting the myth that one leader will be all good and another all bad, and always looking for ways to move our justice system away from punishment towards redemptive restitution and restorative justice.
As God’s people it helps to remember that those of us called into civil governance are there by the grace of God for the good of the people, our goal however is not to perfect the world or nation, but to offer God’s perspective, a better way, and allow society a choice.
The role of a judge is to keep order, to be impartial, fair, unbiased and to follow the laws and the Constitution of the country. They are to listen to all evidence without passing judgment until all is heard but where there is no jury the judge is also the finder of fact as is the case in South Africa.
The Constitutional Court is the highest court in the country when it comes to the interpretation, protection and enforcement of the Constitution. It deals exclusively with constitutional matters – those cases that raise questions about the application or interpretation of the Constitution. It consists of eleven judges who are appointed by the President of South Africa from a list drawn up by the Judicial Service Commission. The judges serve for a term of twelve years. The Court is headed by the Chief Justice of South Africa and the Deputy Chief Justice.
The eight names that qualified for nomination to replace Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng are, in alphabetical order:
- Judge President John Hlophe
- Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga
- Justice Mandisa Maya
- Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi
- Adv. Busisiwe Mkhwebane
- Judge President Dunstan Mlambo
- Adv. Alan Nelson, SC
- Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo
The Nominations Panel, which is chaired by Judge Navanethem (Navi) Pillay, will consider objections before submitting a shortlist of three to five names to the President. The Panel is required to report to the President by Friday, 29 October 2021 and its Terms of Reference are also available on the Presidency website. It is our responsibility as a nation to pray for our president as he appoints the new Chief Justice of South Africa
The biographies of the nominees are available on www.thepresidency.gov.za for inspection by the public.