Media froth over Mogoeng invitation to judges to “Christian” leadership conference

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng

South African newspapers this week were quick off the mark to criticise and in some cases misrepresent Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng for “inviting” judges to attend a leadership conference hosted by top Christian speakers.

Several newspapers, including the Star, City Press and Breaking News Africa incorrectly reported that Mogoeng “ordered” judges to attend the conference hosted by renowned international leadership author, John Maxwell and motivational speaker David Molapo. The Mail and Guardian made the same accusation by a more circuitous route, quoting an unnamed legal academic who said that the language used in Mogoeng’s  email to judges  “was judicial language for ‘you must go'”. One legal academic, Pierre de Vos, of the University of Cape Town  weighs in publically with a blog article with the less-than -academic headline “Chief Justice instructs judges to attend Christian leadership money spinner”.

Not to be left out of the media froth, the headline in a Times Online editorial today is “Bizarre attempt to evangelise South Africa’s judiciary”.

In a more balanced, temperately worded report on the controversy, Business Day  yesterday reported that Mogoeng said he had not compelled any judges to attend the conference at the Hope Resoration Ministries auditorium in Johannesburg on Monday.

“Out of context”
Speaking to Business Day yesterday, Justice Mogoeng said it was doing a “disservice to our country” to “take things out of context and to sensationalise”.

He said as far back as 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. Since then, there had been only one weekend session, hosted by the Steven Covey Foundation, and Mr Covey “was also a Christian, by the way”.

“So when I saw this, I just thought: wow, here is an opportunity to expose those colleagues who are willing and able.

“Nobody was compelled to do anything,” he said, and in fact, none of the judges did go to the conference.

The chief justice said the basic principles of leadership were the same, “irrespective of faith”.

“I don’t understand what the concern is,” he said.

Some critics of the conference picked up on the registration fee of R650 which included a set of DVDs.

In his article, in his “Constitutionally Speaking” blog,  constitutional expert De Vos says it is inappropriate for Mogoeng to use his position to promote a “money making racket for a set of evangelicals”. He calls on the Justice Services Commission (JSC) to take steps to ensure that the Chief Justice does not abuse his position again by “sending a signal that our judiciary serves not all the people of South Africa but only those who adhere to a specific evangelical Christian view of the world”.

Independence of judiciary
“This would fundamentally erode the independence of the judiciary which is guaranteed not only on formal protections but also by ensuring that the perception does not take hold that members of the judiciary act with a specific religious agenda when it hears cases,” continues De Vos.

In further alarmist reporting, City Press writes: “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.”

And Mail and Guardian reports:  “Pressure is mounting on Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng as increasing criticism of his ethical judgment is levelled and a call is made that he be censured by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) following his request that senior members of the judiciary attend a “leadership conference” hosted by a United States evangelist.

“The response of several judges who spoke to the Mail & Guardian ranged from ‘astonishment’ at his lack of judgment and appreciation for the separation of church and state to ‘deep concern’ that he was ‘grooming judges to attend prayer meetings and bring them around to his religious perspective’.

According to Wikipedia, the main speaker at the controversial conference, Maxwell,  regularly speaks to Fortune 500 companies, international government leaders, and organizations as diverse as the United States Military Academy at West Point and the National Football League.  He is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week best-selling author, and one of  25 authors and artists named to’s 10th Anniversary Hall of Fame. Three of his books, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, Developing the Leader Within You, and The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader have each sold over a million copies.

Fellow speaker at the conference, David Molapo, is one of the most sought after motivational speakers in South Africa. He holds two of South Africa’s most prestigious awards, the Young Achiever of the Year – South Africa Award and four Outstanding South African’s Awards (FOYSA) and he has appeared in the Who’s Who in South Africa from 1995 to date. He has consulted for the top 100 Companies and his former designations have included being a Non-Executive Director of Dimension Data SA and other major corporations such as South African Airways and Spoornet.

Not a church event
Chris Mathebula, pastor of the church where the conference was held told Mail and Guardian: “There was no prayer on the day. It wasn’t a church event. They needed a venue that is neutral, where you can have business people come as well as people from the township, so we rented them the venue.”

Mogoeng is no stranger to controversy and criticism by the mainstream media and liberals. In September last year prior to his appointment as Chief Justice and during a JSC public hearing process, he was criticised and ridiculed in the media, mainly because of his Christian views, especially his belief that God wanted him to be Chief Jutice.

The full text of the Chief Justice’s email reads as follows:

From: Moekoa Desmond On Behalf Of Sejosengwe Memme

Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2012 2:48 PM

To: Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng (Contact); Mpati Lex; Ngoepe Bernard; Mthiyane Khayelihle – Judge; Hlophe J – Judge; Musi Hendrick; Mlambo Dunstan; Leeuw Monica; Kgomo Diale; Sangoni Clement – Judge; Davis Dennis; Patel Chimanlal – Judge; Meer Yasmin
Cc: ‘Khwezi Mabaso’; Ngakantsi Boitumelo; Etsebeth Ilonka; Sheldon Astrin; Van Niekerk Sandra; Lemmetjies Gaynor; Mogotsi Reetsang; Malgas Ncumisa; Martin Heidi Deidre; Bihl Rowena; Raleie Motsholathebe; Morar Devika; Opperman Liezl; Motsepe Caroline; Molapo Emily Motlhatlego; Sejosengwe Memme

Subject: Leadership event with Drs John Maxwell and David Molapo
Honourable Judges President/ Heads of Court
Kindly see the attached invitation for your urgent attention. By the direction of the Chief Justice, Heads of Court/Judges President and their Deputies or the most senior judge in the divisions where there are no Deputy Judges President, are hereby requested to be available for the above-mentioned leadership conference.
It will be appreciated if confirmations for attendance can be submitted to the secretariat by end of business on 07 March 2012.

With kind regards

Memme Sejosengwe (Ms)
Secretariat: Heads of Court Forum
Judicial Court Services, Office of the Chief Justice

So what are we to make of Mogoeng’s email?

Are the media, the academics and the legal professionals justified in their outcry that separation of state and church are under attack, and the independence of the judiciary is under threat? Or is this further evidence of biased, over-reaction based on an increasingly anti-Christian media and culture?

Was Mogoeng particularly insensitive to his colleagues who apparently include  atheists, universalists, Jews and Muslims? Or was he just offering judges an opportunity to have their leadership skills honed under the teaching of a world authority on the subject?

Given the past harsh media treatment he received last year when he openly expressed his Christian faith, I would hope that Mogoeng did at least anticipate that his invitation might provoke public controversy.

So, Mogoeng’s decision to send that email remains interesting, to say the least.


  1. This article is a disingenuous whitewash. Pierre de Vos is absolutely correct to raise the concerns he did; unfortunately he seems to be a great deal more au fait with the requirements of our secular constitution than the Chief Justice whose task it is to uphold that constitution. Coming on top of sexist and patriarchal judgements like Mogoeng’s notorious wrist-slap for a man who tied his girlfriend to his car with barbed wire and then dragged her, this latest incident is very worrying indeed.

    Our constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are extremely precious. Historically, most of them have sadly been won in spite of the more reactionary elements in Christianity; are we supposed to stand by while those gains are rolled back because our most senior judge is unwilling to do his constitutional duty?

    If objecting to this and standing up for the sanctity of the constitution means that I am labelled as anti-Christian, I’ll happily wear the label. But I think it would be truer to say that evangelical Christians, the Chief Justice included, are increasingly anti-democracy.

  2. Hi Coroza,

    This article seems to have captured the views from different positions on this issue. The very so-called invitation from Chief Justice is rewritten here as is. And the views of Pierre de Vos are also given expression. I don’t understand your claims then that this article is a “disingenuous whitewash.” Are you reacting to this article or you generally have an issue to address with Christians? You make claims against Christianity without backing them with facts. You arrogate yourself as someone who is a defender of the constitution and democracy that is supossedly under attack from the Chief Justice and evangelical Christians. I don’t think anyone needs to label you as anti-Christian because you already reveal yourself as such. I am both Christian and pro-democracy and there is no contradiction and conflict in this except when the so-called democratic gains are designed to yield an outcome of loss to Christians. When those gains come at the expense of family values, social cohesion, responsible governance, etc we have no choice but to react. If my reaction to moral degenaration, social disfunction, etc. is deemed as reactionary then I am also happy to wear the label. I love my country and have profound respect for this constitutional order but I love God more.
    I cannot speak for Chief Justice Mogoeng and his past judgements but I can speak for the faith he is part of. It would have been better if you addressed issues you have against him separate from Christianity because he is not the paragon of virtue in as far as our faith is concerned. You sense that democracy is under attack and we have long known that our faith is under attack. The advert from Red Bull and other blasphemy against our Lord is a testimoy to this. No one would dare direct such vitrol against other faiths. Both here and abroad Christians have become a soft target. Do we roll down and play dead? If it is a democratic right to blaspheme the name of a diety why are we not hearing this same blaspheme directed against other faiths or the name of their founder used as a swear word?

  3. Amen Afrika. As one who is passionate about the country I live in and proudly South African, I am also determined to do what I can to improve the moral climate in the city I live in, by actively supporting a campaign to be unashamedly ethical. Why do I do it? Because I am a Christian and will never apologise for being one!