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South African President Zuma Appoints Mogoeng Chief Justice

South African President Jacob Zuma appointed Mogoeng Mogoeng as the nation’s chief justice, ignoring objections from academics and civil rights groups that criticized his judicial record.

“Chief Justice Mogoeng brings to the position 14 years of experience as a judge,” Zuma said today in a televised news conference from the capital, Pretoria. “We congratulate the chief justice and thank him for availing himself for national duty.”

The top judge’s post became vacant on Aug. 14 after Sandile Ngcobo declined reappointment because a bid by Zuma to extend his tenure led to a court wrangle. Zuma nominated Mogoeng and confirmed his appointment after consulting with the Judicial Service Commission, whose members include lawyers, judges and representatives of political parties.

Dikgang Moseneke, the deputy judge president of the Constitutional Court, was overlooked for the post. Newspapers owned by Independent News & Media Plc reported last month that at least three other judges serving in the country’s highest court declined nomination to the post because they were not prepared to take the job ahead of Moseneke.

‘Constitutional Vision’

Mogoeng “is not the best person for the job in the eyes of a lot of the legal community,” Cathy Albertyn, a law professor at the University of Witwatersrand, said today in a telephone interview from Johannesburg. “He wasn’t able to express any kind of constitutional vision. It’s a pity that we have set the constitutional test at a level that doesn’t allow us to insist on the best candidate.”

An ordained pastor, Mogoeng, 50, has been a member of the country’s highest court since 2009. He trained at the University of Zululand and the University of South Africa, and previously served as a judge in South Africa’s Labor Appeal Court and as Judge President of the High Court in the North West Province.

“I vow to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, to uphold and protect the constitution and the human rights entrenched in it, and to administer justice to all persons alike without fear, favor or prejudice,” Mogoeng said at the televised conference with Zuma. “I do so confident that God will help me accomplish this important assignment.”

Rights Groups

Mogoeng’s nomination was criticized by women’s and civil rights groups, including Section 27, Sonke Gender Justice Network and the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, because of his previous rulings in rape cases.

As a High Court judge, Mogoeng suspended a two-year jail sentence given to a man who was convicted of raping his estranged wife, ruling that only minimum force was used and the woman submitted to his advances, according to the groups.

Another man convicted of forcing his wife to have sex had his 10-year sentence halved by Mogoeng on the grounds that the act couldn’t “be legally categorized” as rape because they were married, the groups said.

Mogoeng defended his record during a nationally televised two-day interview with the Judicial Service Commission, and denied he was insensitive to gender-based violence.

“I have presided in at least seven other cases involving rape of women in which I imposed or confirmed substantial periods of imprisonment, ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment,” he told the commission on Sept. 3.

Opposition Party Challenge

Mogoeng responded “in a dignified manner to the heated public commentary on his candidature,” Zuma said. In doing so he “protected the integrity of the Constitutional Court and the judiciary. The judiciary should not be part of mud-slinging and the other public spats that happen from time to time in society.”

The Democratic Alliance, the biggest opposition party, indicated that it may challenge the validity of Mogoeng’s appointment.

“We are deeply concerned that the president did not engage in appropriate consultation, nor take into consideration objections voiced by political parties, civil society organizations and the legal fraternity,” Helen Zille, the party’s leader, said in an e-mailed statement. “We are equally concerned that the Judicial Service Commission turned down our proposal to interview more than one candidate. We are currently considering the implications of what we consider to be a defective process.”

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