A judicial want of judgement
The 17th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture delivered last month by the chief justice, Mogoeng Mogoeng, has not attracted as much attention as it warrants. Speaking on "Constitutionalism as an Instrument for Transformation", the chief justice said that he was "not aware of any judiciary in the world that wields the kind of power that we do" and that there is "almost nothing we cannot do in the instrumentality of the Constitution".
This is more disconcerting than it is reassuring, given that the chief justice sees the Constitution as an instrument to achieve "transformation". And, as he himself observes, "absolute power corrupts absolutely".
The lecture constitutes a timely warning to litigants and/or defendants of the strong views the chief justice holds on a number of contentious issues. Nor is this the first time that Justice Mogoeng has spoken out so forcefully. In a speech to the Black Management Forum in June 2016 he denounced as "spin-doctoring" claims that the government had plenty of land available for distribution.
In that same speech he also said that anyone acting as a "front" in black economic empowerment was a "traitor". In his Mandela lecture, he said that anyone living comfortably in a suburb who was "indifferent" to the plight of people in Diepsloot was also a "traitor", a "traitor of our Constitution", a "traitor of Nelson Mandela", and "a traitor of any other person who suffered for us to get where we are".
The Mandela lecture also contained strong views on environmental matters. The environment was "polluted", rivers "toxified", and fauna and flora were being "ravaged with boldness". The pollution evident in India would soon come to South Africa if people with an "insatiable appetite for money in government and the private sector" were allowed to do as they pleased.