It seems that the mechanism to hold judges to account is working. In a remarkably expeditious process, retired Judge Mojapelo, acting for the Judicial Conduct Committee, found that Chief Justice Mogoeng had breached the Judicial Code of Conduct and instructed him to apologise unreservedly in a form dictated by the JCC.
It is a good thing that even the chief justice can be held to account and it means that the system is working. As an aside, one can only wonder why it is that the conduct of an inebriated, racist judge took years to be concluded and the conduct of a judge president, alleged to have been guilty of gross misconduct has dragged on for something like ten years.
While I was a member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) I voted for the promotion of that judge and I always feel I have to apologise anew for my lapse of judgement. But no matter, even that will no doubt conclude at some stage, hopefully in his and my lifetime.
One is a little suspicious that the reason for the expeditious and unprecedented action against the chief justice is that it involved Israel. Mogoeng CJ happened to say that as a Christian he had to love Jerusalem and Israel and that he prayed for peace for Israel. He certainly did not say he hated Palestine. The truth about the complaint against his remarks is that some complainants are from organisations that hate Israel, do not hope for peace for Israel and wish to see it wiped from the face of the earth.
Judge Mojapelo stated that one of the reasons for finding against the CJ is that his remarks contravened South African foreign policy. With great respect to the learned Judge, he seems to be ignorant about foreign policy matters. It is correct that many people in the governing party hate Israel but the government itself maintains normal diplomatic relations with Israel as a friendly country. If Mojapelo was correct in his finding, this country’s foreign policy would be hatred of Israel and support for efforts for its destruction.
Despite a zig-zag during the short-lived oversight of Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who wanted to terminate diplomatic relations with Israel (while maintaining warm relations with every dictator and pariah state in the world), our foreign policy is and for decades has been the same. SA believes in a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine and has always rejected the enmity path so loved by dear old Ronnie Kasrils and his friends.
Another accusation against the CJ is that he became involved in controversial matters. Who made loving a country and praying for peace controversial? Surely it is those who hate the country and pray for war against it? The overwhelming majority of South Africans are Christians. They certainly do not hate Israel. Because a handful of political activists do not support efforts to bring about peace between Israel and the ever-dwindling number of neighbours who seek its destruction, does not make peace controversial.
Loving a country does not mean that one necessarily loves its government or the actions and policies of that government. Millions of South Africans love our country but cannot stand the mess the ANC government has made of our affairs over the past generation. Would it be controversial to state one’s love for our country and to pray for its peace?
Or take a foreign example like Myanmar. I had the privilege of representing SA in that country for four years. I grew to love the country and its people and to know and admire some of its leaders, particularly Aung San Suu Kyi with whom I spent hours talking at her lakeside home. The dictatorship of the military is a dismal development and the violence being used against the brave demonstrators is devastating to the hopes so many democrats around the world had for Myanmar. More than anything else it needs peace and a return to democracy and the Rule of Law. Would prayers for that country and its people be controversial?
The CJ has made it clear that even if 50 million people demonstrate against his statement, he will not retract it. My advice to him, if I may give it, is to stick to his statement that he believes the judgment against him by the JCC is wrong and that he will seek to have it reviewed.
And while that process is in train, he should continue praying for peace in Israel.
Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is: douglasgibsonsouthafrica.com.
This is an amended version of an article that first appeared on News24.com