John Hlophe's letter to Pius Langa

Western Cape Judge President says the M&G misreported his comments

Letter from Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe to Chief Justice Pius Langa, August 11 2009

The Hon Mr Chief Justice Pius Langa
Constitutional Court of South Africa
Private Bag Xl -
Constitutional Hill

Dear Chief Justice


1. I wish to address you on a report that appeared in the Mail and Guardian dated 6 August 2009 In which it is reported that during an alleged exclusive interview with a journalist for the paper, I made disparaging remarks about you I want to assure you that I never had an exclusive interview with Mail and Guardian and that I speak about you in the terms reported in the paper.

2. This journalist who had not been invited by me became part of eight people who were at a dinner table when he causally asked me if I had really called a person that he referred to as a "white man", a racist. I said to him that those allegations had been withdrawn before a committee of the JSC which you chaired. I explained that the matter had ended, with you suggesting that I could shake the hand of my accuser. I then remarked that although I believe that the Chief Justice's suggestion that I shake the hand of my accuser to be noble, humane and a dignified manner of ending this issue, I had refused to do so because I was angry that such accusations had in fact been made. I was shocked to learn from the Mail and Guardian report that I had said that I refused to shake your hand at the meeting in Johannesburg of the JSC's investigative committee. The report could not be true first because, I did twice shake your hand at the meeting in Johannesburg, second I could never have spoken in such disparaging terms about you. I am therefore writing to let you know that I am taking steps to deal with this malicious and despicable report which no doubt is aimed at perpetuating the false narrative of judge at war with each other. I am aware of my obligations under the oath of office to respect the judicial office and to ensure that in both speech and conduct I do not place the name of the Chief Justice in disrepute. I regard the report of the Mail and Guardian as false, malicious but consistent with the view of the paper about my suitability for office of Judge.

3. A further issue that I wish to explain to you Chief Justice is that I hold the Constitutional Court in the highest regard and could never have said that it has sold out. I have consistently stated both publicly and privately that I regard the work and symbolism of the Constitutional Court as sacred The only time that I believe I spoke about the Constitutional Court was in the context of what I have said in public, the africanisation of our law. In this regard, I said that I believe that as a country we could enrich our constitutional philosophy by utilizing African legal concepts in our analysis of constitutional problems. The impression created in the Mail and Guardian report is mischievous and clearly inconsistent with my interest to servethe Court. I regard the report as a deliberate distortion of my views to perpetuate the impression of being a controversial person. I feel strongly about the comments attributed to me and while I feel fatigued by these reports I have an obligation as a Judge to defend the Integrity of the Constitutional Court and that of the Chief Justice.

4. I wish to assure you Chief Justice that the report is false. Despite the unpleasant issues that are pending before the JSC and the many allegations that have been made about you, I continue to hold you in high regard, both as a person and the Chief Justice of South Africa. Please accept my explanation for what I consider ill-considered and reckless reports about your person and office attributed to me and in your typical magnanimous nature to offer me your forgiveness for any part which may conceivably have permitted such a malicious report to be written about you and the Court. For my part I am taking appropriate steps to ensure that the report is retracted and an apology Is offered by the Mail and Guardian should you wish that to be so.

Yours in service

Mandlakayise John Hlophe


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