New Constitutional Court judge Mogoeng Mogoeng hadn't even tried out his chair before he came under attack – from us, among other quarters. He's got something to say about that.
Mogoeng is clearly irritated at claims he’s inexperienced, and doesn’t have the highest sense of ethics. On the weekend both the Democratic Alliance and the Inkhata Freedom Party said, on the record, they felt he didn’t have the necessary constitutional law experience. There was also a claim he didn’t recuse himself from a Truth Commission case in which his wife was a prosecutor.
Well, once given an opportunity to set the record straight, he ran with it. He explained it was not a TRC case (we got it wrong too – sorry Judge, please don’t hold it against us should we ever appear before you), but rather an appeal case he oversaw. His wife did appear as a prosecutor, but there was no request for him to recuse himself. He also pointed out that he wasn’t sitting alone, as it was an appeal, and so he wasn’t the only judge hearing the case.
As far as the experience charge goes, he pointed to several cases he’d heard that had constitutional implications. He explained how he’d told all of this to the Judicial Service Commission (he’s right, we were there) and they’d clearly accepted that.
What surprised us was how quickly he responded to the request for an interview. Once we were able to get through to him, he accepted our request with alacrity.
The other new Constitutional Court judges weren’t nearly so easy. Judge Sisi Khampepe is sitting at the Labour Court this week, and her assistant said that he just couldn’t get through to her. Judge Chris Jafta is at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, which is in recess. So if you don’t have his cell phone number, there’s no interconnection with him. And Judge Johan Froneman’s assistant said simply: “the judge says no”. His judgments are likely to be short.
But Mogoeng was always the most likely to speak in public. His performance at the JSC resembled that of a Baptist preacher; there’s a bit of Martin Luther King Jnr about him, the same cadence and flowing manner of speech, with a bit of a dream thrown in.
We’re going to miss Albie Sachs as he goes off to into the sunset to design buildings, write books and bring up his youngest son. Mogoeng doesn’t have quite the same backstory, but he might bring the same heart to the court.
(Grootes is an Eye Witness News reporter)