Legal experts were unsurprised that the chief justice was being taken to task over his comments.
The leaking of “contorted” complaints against Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was “very unfortunate”, Nathi Mncube, spokesperson for the office of the chief justice, said on Thursday.
This in the wake of the news that the African Alliance – a Johannesburg-based health advocacy group – has lodged a formal complaint against Mogoeng with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over his prayer against a Covid-19 vaccine “of the devil”.
Mncube would not comment directly on the complaint.
“Once a complaint against a judge is lodged with the JSC, the JSC will then deal with both the complainant and the judge concerned.
“The matter does not get discussed with the media while it is still a subject of investigation by the JSC,” he said.
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He did, however, point to “elements with malevolent intentions who use every opportunity to concoct complaints against the chief justice”.
“These contorted complaints are leaked to the media with deliberate intention to create a public frenzy and tarnish the chief justice’s image as it has become fashionable to do so lately,” he said, adding that this was “very unfortunate”.
A video clip of Mogoeng praying passionately during a keynote address at an event at Tembisa Provincial Tertiary Hospital went viral last month, sparking heated debate across the country.
“If there be any vaccine that is of the devil, meant to infuse 666 in the lives of people, meant to corrupt their DNA any such vaccine, Lord God Almighty, let it be destroyed by fire,” he said in the clip.
And at a press briefing the following day, the chief justice was unapologetic.
Asked then about the possibility of his comments triggering a complaint, he said: “Any South African who feels aggrieved by what any judge, any magistrate says, including me, they must lay complaints.”
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“Whether the complaints are well-founded or not is a matter that will be decided by the relevant structures,” he added.
In the complaint that has now been laid, Africa Alliance founder and head Tian Johnson accused the chief justice of
breaching the Judicial Services Act and having “acted in a manner that is incompatible with or unbecoming the holding of judicial office”.
Johnson said the chief justice’s words carried “immense weight” and that his comments had the potential to jeopardise vaccine roll-out in South Africa,
“In our view, the remarks he made display a lack of sound and proper judgment and a lack of due regard for his position of influence.
“His remarks are underpinned by, or alternatively lend weight to, nonsensical antivaxxer conspiracy theories which are a direct and severe threat to health and, accordingly, his remarks have the potential to cause serious harm.”
JSC spokesperson Sello Chiloane said on Thursday that the complaint would be referred to the judicial conduct committee.
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“It is that committee that will consider and deal with the complaint,” he said.
In the meantime, legal experts were unsurprised that the chief justice was being taken to task over his comments.
“The chief justice has on many occasions spoken publicly on issues that are well beyond what would normally be considered appropriate, so this is another one,” said Alison Tilley of judicial watchdog group Judges Matter.
And Paul Hoffman, who heads up anti-corruption lobby group Accountability Now, echoed these sentiments.
“What he said was essentially offsides for a person who has the constitutional responsibility of leading the judiciary,” Hoffman said.
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