At face value last week’s unprecedented decision by the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) to order South Africa’s chief justice to retract and apologise for remarks he made about Israel appears to be the outcome of a fair and transparent disciplinary process.
The committee’s speedy investigation of an official complaint against comments made by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng during a webinar last June, and its finding which is laid out for all to see in a 67-page legal document have been hailed by experts quoted in the media as a welcome demonstration of the judicial regulatory system working well — even calling the nation’s top judge to order when he has been found to transgress the Judicial Code of Conduct.
While the process allows for Mogoeng to lodge an appeal and even take the appeal decision to court if he is unhappy with it, various experts have called in the media for the chief justice to respect the JCC’s ruling and to apologise for his misconduct of “becoming involved in political controversy” by publicly airing his biblically-based convictions on Israel. These experts say that Mogoeng must apologise unconditionally in order to restore public confidence that he can be trusted to judge fairly in political cases. The experts’ concern is of course unfounded, as Mogoeng has consistently stated that as a judge his commitment to upholding the Constitution trumps his biblical views — something which he demonstrated in 2019 when he ruled against corporal punishment in the home, much to the dismay of many Christians.
While modelling judicial fairness, Mogoeng’s bold transparency about his Christian faith during his tenure as chief justice has ruffled many feathers. At the same time he has stirred courage in the hearts of many Christians through his personal example and his repeated call to Christ followers to refuse to be bullied into silence as the Constitution upholds the right of every South African citizen to speak out and live out their faith.
Getting back to the mainstream media’s big thumbs-up for the disciplinary process which resulted in Judge Phineas Mojapelo of the JCC censuring Mogoeng, not everybody is buying that narrative.
In the week since the committee found against the chief justice, about 27 000 Christians have signed a petition supporting his right to express his faith, taking the total number of signatures to about 122 000. And judging by the comments of some of the signatories, many of them recognise that far from being a straight-forward matter of applying the Judicial Code of Conduct, the matter is really all about Israel — and more specifically about attempting to muzzle the Chief Justice for daring to challenge the anti-Israel bias of the ANC government. leftist media and academia.
Many Christians see the matter for what it is — an attempt to cancel voices that don’t submit to the prevailing anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian narrative.
There was an outcry and calls for Mogoeng’s head last June as soon as reports emerged of his comments on a webinar hosted by the Jerusalem Post, in which he said he loved Israel and Palestine, prayed for the peace of Jerusalem and urged South Africa to put its bias aside in order to play a peacemaking role in the Middle East.
Thereafter, the aggressively anti-Israel Africa4Palestine organisation, formerly known as BDS South Africa complained officially to the Judicial Service Commission about Mogoeng’s pro-Israel remarks, triggering the JCC investigation. The BDS movement promotes sanctions and disinvestment against Israel which it falsely portrays as an apartheid state akin to the old South Africa. It also opposes the notion of an Israeli state in any form in “Palestine” and it has documented links with Palestinian terrorists.
The JCC investigation and decision on Africa4Palestine’s complaint against the chief justice were carried out uncharacteristically speedily. And there is some history that supports the sneaky suspicion of some Christians who hold Mogoeng in high regard that his problem is not so much about becoming involved in political controversy as about challenging the position of the powerful anti-Israel bloc. Reportedly, at least two, esteemed judges — High Court judge Siraj Desai and Judge Dennis Davis — were actively involved in high-profile political activity against Israel while they were sitting without ever facing disciplinary action or question marks about their judicial impartiality.
Comments by a number of Christian leaders, likewise confirm that they identify anti-Israel bias as the heart of the matter. For instance:
This judgement is a form of institutional cancel culture against judges who publicly express the Christian beliefs that underpin their support of Israel and peace. This effectively has a chilling effect on future behaviour, which is unacceptable in a constitutional democracy such as ours. — Bafana Modise, South African Friends of Israel
In these days we have been calling on churches and Christians in our city to repent of various ‘wicked ways’. We included in the course of this call our repentance for the biased attitude of our nation towards Israel. We believe that we speak not only on behalf of Christians in the Western Cape when we call on the Judicial Conduct Committee to retract their request and reconsider the verdict in the matter. — Dr Barry Isaacs and Bishop Mark Bloemstein, Concerned Clergy of the Western Cape
To claim that the Chief Justice’s utterances were otherwise motivated is to overlook, misinterpret and misrepresent the essence of what he said – which was, in our view, neither political, nor biased. Rather, what seems to be the main objection against him in this matter is that he did not line up with a particular bias. — Afrika Mhlope, representing a group of PE church leaders
We fully support the right of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng to express his Christian convictions and support for peace in the Holy Land and we denounce those who are mischievously misinterpreting his message towards their hateful agenda. — Vivienne Myburgh, national director International Christian Embassy SA
An inherent danger of Judge Mojapelo’s decision is that it augments the threat by pro-Palestinian lobbyists to the constitutionally enshrined freedoms of all South Africans, particularly the Judeo-Christian community. — Olga Meshoe, Deisi International
Christians and Jewish people will not be silent while our deeply held religious beliefs and links with the Holy Land of Israel are undermined by those with a radical anti-Israel and anti-Semitism agenda. The ACDP calls on the millions of South Africans to unite behind Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and through prayer and action, to reject the renewed pressure by the ANC and EFF to downgrade the South African Embassy in Israel. We similarly reject the calls for Chief Justice to resign. — Rev Kenneth Meshoe, leader ACDP
The fact that radical enemies of Israel have succeeded in employing a respected, official legal mechanism to attempt to muzzle the chief justice places him in a potentially difficult position whichever way he responds to the committee’s order — whether he apologises after saying he will never apologise, whether he lodges an appeal or whether he defies the order.
With just months left before he completes his 10-year term, Mogoeng has an important role to play at a time when the judiciary is facing a credibility challenge as a result of former president Jacob Zuma’s refusal to heed an order of the Constitutional Court that he should appear before the Zondo Commission.
Mogoeng is also seen by many as having an important public role to play after he leaves the Office of the Chief Justice. He is regarded by many Christians as a David figure who is called to play a role in the deliverance of the nation from the grip of goliaths which are hindering it from fulfilling its divine destiny as a righteous nation and catalyst for revival and reformation on the continent.
Consequently, a number of people who love and respect Mogoeng are looking for ways to assist him with the difficult choices he faces as his 10-day time limit for making an apology expires this weekend.
About 230 Christian elders participated in a webinar on Tuesday night in which they sought wisdom in the counsel of many regarding how to assist the chief justice.
Some experts who have studied Judge Mojapelo’s 67-page decision on the matter, say there is arguably a case that Mogoeng unintentionally involved himself in political controversy which is in breach of the code which he agreed to uphold when he took up office.
Freedom of Religion South Africa has commented: “While the CJ had (on a plain reading of the Code, and in the JCC’s opinion) overstepped the mark in this instance, it is arguable that the sanction imposed on him by the JCC is disproportionately harsh – particularly in circumstances where ‘political controversy’ is not defined in the Code. It should also be noted that the CJ’s only ‘offence’ was his expressed hope that South Africa would draw on its own painful history to bring about peace in the Middle East. Many South Africans – irrespective of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof – would hold that the desire for peace is a noble one, not deserving of (this kind of) censure.”
Other legal advice that was expressed during Tuesday’s gathering of elders is that Mogoeng could apologise for becoming involved in political controversy by commenting on South Africa’s policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but he does not have to withdraw his statements on loving Israel and Palestine, praying for the peace of Jerusalem and quoting the Bible as stating that those who bless Israel will be blessed and those who curse her will be cursed.
The gathering also heard counsel that there is nothing to apologise for and that the situation is comparable with the dilemma faced by Daniel when citizens were ordered to bow before the king’s image.
Other concerned Christians have sought to come alongside the chief justice in his valley of decision by mobilising prayer and fasting and prayer vigils
An interesting statement that was made by one of the elders on Tuesday is that the South African establishment is simply not equipped to deal with the likes of Mogoeng. He said South Africa is struggling for the first time to deal with somebody who is truly living out Isaiah chapter 9 and verse 6 which says the government shall be upon his shoulder — which he says speaks of Jesus and in this context of Him living through believers.
He pointed out that since Mogoeng accepted his nomination as chief justice and courted criticism and ridicule for saying he believed that God wanted him to become chief justice, he has consistently sought to trust and obey God rather than to protect his own reputation.
And he noted that God has carried him throughout his unprecedented term. “I don’t believe God is about to stop protecting him,” he said.
Let us pray that in this turbulent time the chief justice will clearly discern God’s voice.