Retired Chief Justice Mogoeng – a man who led the judiciary with courage, integrity, and wisdom

November 8th, 2021

The term for Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng as the Chief Justice of South Africa, came to an end after he had served in that position for ten years.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

At midnight on 11 October 2021, the term for Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng as the Chief Justice of South Africa (SA) came to an end after he had served in that position for ten years.

President Cyril Ramaphosa paid tribute to Justice Mogoeng on behalf of SA, saying that Chief Justice Mogoeng’s leadership inspired a judiciary that was fearless in holding those in power to account and empathetic to the plight of individuals and groups in society.

President Ramaphosa said: ‘Today we pay tribute to Chief Justice Mogoeng for endowing South African jurisprudence and the democratic order more broadly with judicial integrity and resilience, which has impacted positively on the lives of citizens and advanced accountability following a decade of outstanding services and leadership, Chief Justice Mogoeng leaves a rich legacy for our democratic culture, our judiciary, the legal profession and South Africans.’

President Ramaphosa added that Chief Justice Mogoeng’s leadership has deepened international regard for South African jurisprudence, for the integrity, effectiveness, and efficiency of South African democratic institutions, and for the separation of powers enshrined in the Constitution. President Ramaphosa said that Chief Justice Mogoeng presided over the judiciary during a decade, which was challenging in many ways, but during which, the South African judiciary held firm and enabled renewal of the South African society. ‘Having served the nation with such distinction since September 2011, Chief Justice Mogoeng is now able to devote himself more to his personal interests, even though we know he will continue to be an important figure and voice in public life. We wish him well,’ President Ramaphosa added.

Acting Chief Justice, Raymond Zondo, said he would like to thank Chief Justice Mogoeng on behalf of the country and the judiciary for his excellent service to the judiciary and the people of SA. He pointed out that Chief Justice Mogoeng served the country as a Chief Justice during the most difficult times in the constitutional democracy and was able to lead the judiciary with courage, integrity, and wisdom. He added that Chief Justice Mogoeng started his term at a time when many people doubted whether he was the right person for the job and yet it did not take long for him to prove that, indeed, he was up to the challenge.

Acting Chief Justice Zondo added that Chief Justice Mogoeng was a popular Chief Justice during his term and often spoke strongly against corruption in both the public and the private sector and emphasised the need for ethical leadership in both sectors. He said that Chief Justice Mogoeng provided the 2030 Vision for the Judiciary (a contribution to the National Development Plan). The vision outlined the development plans for the judiciary, based on –

  • the principle of judicial independence, for the norms and standards;
  • judicial case management;
  • judicial education;
  • court modernisation; and
  • access to justice.

He added that the vision further outlined the judiciary’s preferred court administration model as outlined in the Judiciary’s Institutional Models Report, which was presented to the Executive Authority for consideration.

Acting Chief Justice Zondo, pointed out among others some of Chief Justice Mogoeng’s highlights during his term as a Chief Justice, included:

  • The South African Judicial Education Institute – which provides ongoing training for judicial officers.
  • The Chief Justice initiated the Annual Judiciary Report which, since 2018, is released on Judiciary Day. It is through these annual reports that the judiciary accounts to the public for its performance of its judicial functions.
  • The responsibility for the administration of the Superior Courts was transferred from the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to the Office of the Chief Justice.

Acting Chief Justice Zondo, said apart from Chief Justice Mogoeng’s achievements, he made a huge contribution to the jurisprudence and wrote some of the most important judgments that have helped to strengthen and promote the rule of law, the supremacy of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Some of them being the judgments in –

  • the Nkandla matter (Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others (Corruption Watch (RF) NPC as amicus curiae) 2016 (5) BCLR 618 (CC));
  • his secret ballot judgment on the vote of no confidence in Parliament (United Democratic Movement v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others (Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and Others as amici curiae) 2017 (8) BCLR 1061 (CC));
  • the Sars judgment on racism (South African Revenue Service v Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration and Others 2017 (2) BCLR 241 (CC)); and
  • many others.

‘We thank the Chief Justice for leading the judiciary with distinction, for his humility and for his integrity. We thank him for his outstanding service to the people of this country. We thank his wife and family for giving him strong support during his term in office and for allowing him to devote as much time as he did to the service of the nation,’ Acting Chief Justice Zondo added.

The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) also released a statement on the retirement of Chief Justice Mogoeng. In the statement the LSSA’s President, Jan van Rensburg said: ‘The Chief Justice was a great leader; he was a principled man who brought significant reform to the judiciary. His appointment brought a lot of criticism levelled against him with some suggesting that he was captured or positioned by the former president. Accusations, he totally dispelled and proved everyone wrong.’ The LSSA wished Chief Justice Mogoeng a peaceful retirement and thanked him for the outstanding job he has done.

Retired Chief Justice Mogoeng was appointed as a judge of the North West High Court in 1997. In April 2000 he was appointed a judge of the Labour Appeal Court. In October 2002, he went on to become the Judge President of the North West High Court. He was then appointed as a judge of the Constitutional Court in 2009 and in 2011, he was appointed as the Chief Justice of SA.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.