Johannesburg: South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has been ordered by the country’s Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) to apologise for and retract the pro-Israeli statements he made in July last year. Mogoeng’s comments made during a webinar hosted by the Jerusalem Post caused a huge public outcry, including complaints to the JCC.
Mogoeng expressed his full support for Israel during the webinar despite the South African government being in support of Palestine and opposing Israeli occupation of parts of the Palestinian territory. In the furore that followed, Mogoeng was adamant that he would never apologise and dismissed allegations that he was compromising the integrity of the judiciary by making political statements.
The JCC has now given Mogoeng 10 days to tender the apology to a meeting of the serving justices of South Africa’s highest legal body, the Constitutional Court, as well as release it to the media. Mogoeng also has to unreservedly retract and withdraw the statement that he made after the public outcry over his remarks in the webinar, the JCC ordered.
“I will never, even if 50 million people can march every day for the next 10 years, for me to retract or apologise for what I say, I will not do it,” Mogoeng said at the time. “There will, therefore, be no retraction. There is nothing to retract. There will be no apology not even this political apology that in case I have offended anybody without meaning to offend them, for that reason I will not apologise for anything,” he added.
However, the JCC said that the South African judiciary should not unduly involve itself in political controversy. “It does not use or lend the prestige of judicial office to advance any private interests, whether of its individual members or others.
“It jealously guards its independence, impartiality and public confidence in the courts and respects the separation of power (where appropriate) and justly demands of the other organs of the state to fulfil their constitutional obligations in terms of section 165(4) of the constitution,” it said. The JCC emphasised the need for the judiciary to comply with its own constitutional, legal and ethical obligations in order to ensure public confidence in its activities.
The JCC order comes at a time when the judiciary and the Constitution are coming under attack from various parties who are alleging that prominent judges are being bribed. The most notable comments have been from former president Jacob Zuma, who is facing charges of corruption that have been going on for over 15 years now.
Zuma last month also defied a constitutional court order to return as a witness to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, where he walked out without permission from the Deputy Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, who is heading the Commission. The Commission has asked the court to sentence Zuma to two years imprisonment for contempt of court and setting a dangerous precedent for others to do so as well.
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