Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said last night that even before he had finished reading through a Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) finding against him regarding remarks he made in a webinar last June, God gave him “rock solid” grounds for appeal.
At first he was shocked by God seemingly giving him a strategy prematurely, as he wanted to rely on his own understanding of the law, he said during an online thanksgiving service arranged by the Healing the Nation of Africa Campaign prayer movement which he leads.
On March 4 Mogoeng was found guilty by Judge Phineas Majopela of the JCC of breaching four counts of the Judicial Code of Conduct, including becoming involved in political controversy for criticising government policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The case against him arose from complaints lodged by pro-Palestinian groups, Africa4Palestine, the SA BDS Coalition and the Women’s Cultural Group. over allegedly pro-Israel remarks he made in a webinar hosted by the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
The JCC ordered Mogoeng to retract and unconditionally apologise for his remarks within 10 days by reading an apology it had scripted for him before a meeting of serving Constitutional Court justices and issuing a written and signed copy to the media.
Yesterday the secretariat of the JCC announced Mogoeng’s decision to appeal its ruling.
Addressing last night’s online service attended by about 285 Christian leaders from South Africa and various African nations, Mogoeng said: “The Lord gave me rock-solid grounds to appeal even the most unusual remedial action [the scripted apology], as if I am a primary school child who can’t read for meaning. That is the most unusual thing I have ever seen. It’s almost as if it was designed to trash you, to reduce you to nothing, to put you in your place. So I am going to appeal that for the sake of the judges and the magistrates who will find life impossible if they were to be subjected to this kind of thing.”
Emphasising the dangerous consequences of Mojapelo’s finding for judges and magistrates he cited a number of past statements and actions of judges which, based on Mojapelo’s reasoning, could have landed them before the JCC and led to their unjustified shaming and punishment for transgressing the Judicial Code of Conduct. Even Mojapelo himself would have qualified for such treatment, based on a newspaper article he had once written criticising the president for nominating only one candidate for the position of chief justice instead of allowing other candidates to be nominated, he said.
Judges, like other citizens, have constitutional rights or freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of expression, he said.
Explaining the background to the matter, Mogoeng said last night that he had wanted to turn down an invitation by the chief rabbi of South Africa Dr Warren Goldstein to participate with him in the webinar last June because he had thought it might be dangerous for him to take part. But he said the Lord instructed him to accept, reminding him it was just one of many “ridiculous” assignments He had given him, such as praying in parliament.
“He said just go; I’ll give you what you say and what I did say I relied on Genesis 12 verses 1 to 4; I relied on Psalm 122 verse 6; and I relied on Matthew 5:44 to articulate my point.
“The essence of the message [during that webinar] was: If you curse Israel, you will attract the curse, according to my understanding of Genesis 12, verses one to four (that God will bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse Israel). As a child of God, I am obliged to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. And I love everybody, I love Israel, I love Israelis, I love the Palestinians, I love Palestine.”
Mogoeng had also expressed his “love” for the Palestinian state and Israel and their citizens during the webinar.
He said he had been accused of siding against the South African government and “siding with a foreign power”.
“I was said to be hateful, all manner of things were said.”
He said the four counts he had been found guilty of were: “That I got myself involved in a political controversy; that I breached separation of powers; that I lent the prestige of my office to advance my interests and the interests of the Jerusalem Post and the Israeli government; and that I got myself involved in unacceptable extrajudicial activities irreconcilable with the judicial office.
“And it was said that what makes it worse is that I seem to have connived with the Israeli government to make sure that we time the Jerusalem Post webinar in such a way as to embarrass the government of South Africa, because the next day, unbeknown to me, they were going to make a presentation at the United Nations Security Council.
“But it is also said that I sort of condoned and encouraged the Israeli government to break international law, to undermine UN Security Council resolutions.”
Mogoeng said he was shocked that “my colleague [Mojapelo], without any factual basis” could have found it possible that he could have so connived with the Israeli government.
He told last night’s service that what runs through the JCC decision is that he undermined the official government policy of South Africa towards Israel.
He said the findings against him relating to separation of powers and everything else hinged on his alleged undermining of the official government policy of South Africa towards Israel.
“So, on the 9th of March the lord said to me: ‘Son, wouldn’t you want to examine the policy that you have been found guilty for breaching?'”
He said he immediately commissioned an investigation and discovered that no official government policy of South Africa towards Israel exists.
“When policy is made, it can only be made in terms of section 85 (2) b of the Constitution, together with section 101, subsections one and two of the Constitution. There must be a document signed by the president and the minister responsible for that portfolio…. There is no policy on South Africa towards Israel that contradicts anything that I have said.
Mogoeng said that during a speech that President Cyril Ramaphosa gave in 2018 to the Jewish community in South Africa on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, he called for peace and a peaceful resolution to the situation in the Middle East.
“Is that not what I called for? Peace and mutually beneficial coexistence? You will never find anything that contradicts what I said, said by the president. Nothing official, nothing.”
Regarding the finding that he lent the prestige of my office to others to advance his and their interests, he said: “Any suggestion that I am guilty of any provision that talks about appointment when I did not accept any appointment, is flawed. That provision [in the code of conduct]is about ensuring that while you are a judge, you can’t become a mayor, you can’t become a premier, you can’t become a minister, you can’t become a member of parliament because you will then be exercising executive authority, or legislative authority in that capacity…”
Returning to Mojapelo saying Mogoeng had used the Jerusalem Post webinar to advance his own interests, those of the publication, and of the Israeli government, the chief justice said it was again “very dangerous”.
“Because it means every time a judge or magistrate accepts an invitation by SABC or eNCA or Newsroom Africa, they are advancing their own interests and or the interests of that station so that it can have a large viewership, and the judges must be punished for it.”
The same could apply to judges agreeing to be covered in newspapers, magazines, on radio or speaking at a conference, he added. A judge could then not be a chancellor or council member of a university, he said.
“That is narrow-minded, it is flawed and superficial reasoning.”
In his message lat night Mogoeng also commented on constututional freedoms.
“Contrary to my brother Mojapelo’s logic, judges are citizens, and have constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of thought and freedom of opinion. It is not correct to say that as soon as you assume office, you automatically let go of your constitutional rights. Where is that written? What authority is he basing his decision on?”
Mogoeng said that a president also had a right to criticise a court judgment, like any other citizen, if he or she believed the judgment was wrong.
“I have been saying to politicians and members of the public for years: ‘You have a right to criticise, but please, tell us where we have gone wrong, don’t just generalise.’ The only thing that the president, like any other citizen, is not entitled to do in relation to a court judgment is to refuse to comply with it.”
He said he is appealing the findings against him because he respects the law. But if it got to a point where, for example, he was forced to say he hates Israel or hates Palestine he would rather cease to be chief justice.
He said there were those around the world who had “mastered the art of intimidation” who had intolerance as their “trademark”.
“As a result the children of God are fear stricken they are afraid to pray in public.” he said.
“The mischief-makers can charge me with treason, they can charge me with all manner of things. Do you think I care? [God’s] law has never failed me. I am not saying things in order to be popular, I am not saying things to enjoy media coverage, I don’t need media coverage. Anyone who pays close attention to me will realise that I don’t even easily allow the media to cover what I am saying. I don’t need them.
“Why must I be worried about the media? What do I want publicity for? For people to know me? Don’t they know me? And after they know me, what are they going to do about it?”
During the service Mogoeng also spoke about numerous prophecies he has received in South Africa and other parts of the world about becoming president of South Africa — even the next president.
He said even his enemies had got wind of these words and some suggested, incorrectly, that the Healing the Nation of Africa Campaign was not a prayer movement but a political party in disguise. He said he had no political ambitions but was available to do whatever the Lord wills. He believed that behind many of the attacks on him over a number of years was a desire to cancel the Lord’s destiny for him.
Mogoeng said he knew of many attempts to kill him, even a recent one this year.