The man who introduced President Jacob Zuma to Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has strongly criticised his nomination for the post of chief justice.
The Mail & Guardian was tipped off that Johannesburg advocate Khotso Ramolefe brought together Mogoeng and Zuma some years ago.
Ramolefe sat next to Zuma during the latter’s 2008 Constitutional Court bid to overturn the search warrants executed as part of the Scorpions’ corruption investigation against him.
Approached for comment on the proposed appointment, Ramolefe’s response was perhaps surprising, given that he had been regarded as a friend of Mogoeng.
“I am shocked, completely shocked,” said Ramolefe, who knew Mogoeng at the University of Natal, where they both studied, and from Ramolefe’s home town of Mafikeng, where Mogoeng served as a prosecutor and later as judge president of the North West High Court.
“I know them both quite well and, considering the circumstances under which they got to know each other — with me in the middle — I am not comfortable, not comfortable at all.
“There is nothing outstanding that Justice Mogoeng would bring to the office of chief justice. If he were properly advised, he should decline the nomination, mindful of the man who sits next to him, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, who is by far better qualified.”
Ramolefe, who said he was speaking out reluctantly but out of a sense of professional concern, explained how he had met Zuma during the president’s rape trial in 2006 and had later introduced him to Mogoeng.
“I followed the rape trial on television and was concerned at some of the legal strategy and also I thought the ANC had done him a disservice in the way he was being treated. I went and knocked on his door and offered my support.”
Ramolefe explained that as a result of this Zuma was grateful to him and, some time in 2008, asked to visit the Ramolefe family home in Mafikeng.
“In consequence of the interaction that Mr Zuma and I had during the time of his rape trial and during the search and seizure application to the Constitutional Court Mr Zuma said to me that he wanted to visit me at my home in Mafikeng — where I come from — and so he duly paid us a visit on a particular Sunday at my home. The arrangement had been that we would have dinner together.”
Ramolefe said he had invited Mogoeng to the dinner.
“Judge Mogoeng and I come a long way. I was at university with him in the Eighties in Natal, where he was studying law and I was studying social sciences. I then got to spend more time with him in Mafikeng, where he and I had lived for quite a number of years, shortly after he had started practising law — So he’s a man I know quite well and so much so that I was best man at his wedding.
“Now the reason why I invited Judge Mogoeng is very simply this: that I didn’t want to be sitting all alone with Mr Zuma at my home, although I could have done that. But I thought I should share the experience with an old friend of mine. At that time Mogoeng was judge president in the North West.”
Wide ranging discussions
Ramolefe said Mogoeng had never met Zuma before the dinner. He declined to reveal the nature of their discussions but said they were wide ranging.
“But I have no doubt in my mind that the decision the president has made now, sadly, has its genesis in that meeting at my home.”
Ramolefe, who said he believed that Zuma and Mogoeng stayed in touch after that meeting, explained his shock at the nomination as having several components.
“First of all, Mogoeng came from a very small division in terms of work that judges do there. I don’t know of any major judgments he has written that would render him the sort of man that becomes immediately a possible contender for the position.
“Second, he’s been at the Constitutional Court only a short period. He just cannot have the experience that renders him suitable for the appointment.
“Of course I understand that one major duty of a chief justice is administrative, but at the Constitutional Court the incumbent carries a lot more responsibility in that he is called upon — as I understand things — to actually write leading judgments. Without experience, he can’t do this.
“Worse, there is a man who has been sitting there for a long time. He’s amassed a great wealth of expertise, he’s written some of the best judgments and he was always the natural choice: the deputy chief justice, Dikgang Moseneke.
“And in fact, as relates to Mr Zuma himself, what I find unfortunate about this thing is that I am one of the people who supported him publicly when others preferred to be like Nicodemus, coming in the night. It was a time when some in his own political party were — so it seemed — bent on standing in his way and preventing him from becoming president of the country.
“It boggles my mind that it would now occur to him, having had that unfortunate experience, to have Moseneke treated in the same way by constantly overlooking him for a position which is rightly his due.
“I think that if the president goes through with this it will be a sad day for the judiciary and it will be the sort of thing that sows suspicion and tremendous disquiet. And I have no doubt that it would not be a step in any way helpful to the general development of the judiciary in South Africa. If I had any opportunity to advise Justice Mogoeng or Mr Zuma, I would urge Mogoeng to decline the nomination and Zuma not to make this appointment.”
Approached for comment on his past relationship with Zuma or any social meetings between the two, Mogoeng declined to comment and referred all questions to the presidency.
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