South Africa chief justice nominee grilled over conservatism

4th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pastor Mogoeng Mogoeng, the embattled nominee for South Africa's chief justice, defended himself in public hearings Sunday over charges that he was too conservative to hold the post.

Mogoeng, 50, was nominated by President Jacob Zuma last month to replace Sandile Ngcobo who announced in July that he would not stay in office as requested by Zuma after the extension was challenged in court.

Backed only by the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the ordained pastor appeared before his peers Saturday and Sunday to answer questions about his age, his alleged inexperience, his professional ethics and his alleged links to Zuma.

In a country which boasts Africa's most liberal constitution, AIDS groups, gay rights and women groups have criticised the evangelical pastor for his conservative views which they deem to be out of the mainstream.

"We are firmly of the view that he is not a suitable candidate", said Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) spokesman Mark Heywood. "Mogoeng had delivered a significant number of judgments that showed "patriarchy" and leniency to rape and women abuse."

The pastor also came under fire from key jurists, the country's main labour federation Cosatu and in an editorial from the Sunday Independent which wrote: "It is only Justice Mogoeng who can bring sanity back to the Constitutional Court by asking Zuma to consider someone else for this job."

In two days of public hearings, the pastor pushed back against accusations that he was "homophobic", "insensitive to gender-based violence" and rejected suggestions that he had been "some kind of an agent or puppet of the apartheid machinery"

"It has been alleged that I am homophobic. (...) The Constitution guarantees every South African freedom of religion, belief and opinion," Mogoeng retorted. "In the exercise of this right, I have fully embraced the Christian faith."

Mogoeng, a member of Winners Chapel International, said his church's opposition to homosexuality was not "something peculiar to it", nor did the church have as its core value, the attitude that "homosexuality should not be practised, or is a deviant behaviour".

"It is based purely on the biblical injunction that a man should marry a woman and that there shall be a husband and a wife," he declared.

The pastor also insisted that charges that he was insensitive to violence against women relied "on three cases involving rape against women where the sentences imposed by the trial court were reduced."

"What the commentators have deliberately failed to draw to the attention of the Commission is that I have presided in at least seven other cases involving rape of women in which I imposed or confirmed substantial periods of imprisonment, ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment," he added.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe jumped to Mogoeng's defence, saying "The vicious mobilisation against the president's nominee is quite unprecedented."

Mogoeng was also forced to spell out his stance on the death penalty, which has been banned in this country since the end of apartheid rule in 1994.

Last month, constitutional expert and University of the Western Cape law professor Pierre de Vos wrote on his blog that Mogoeng's nomination "if confirmed, will mean that for the next ten years the South African judiciary will be led by a deeply conservative jurist."

"This could potentially have consequences for the implementation of the transformative vision embodied in the South African Constitution."

© 2011 AFP

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