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Controversial Jurist Becomes South Africa’s Top Justice

Controversial Jurist Becomes South Africa’s Top Justice

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Despite activists' accusations that he is homophobic and misogynistic, Mogoeng Mogoeng has been appointed chief justice of South Africa's highest court -- and he believes he was chosen by God for the position.

A more earthly figure, South African president Jacob Zuma, Thursday confirmed Mogoeng's appointment to lead the nation's Constitutional Court, the Los Angeles Times reports. Mogoeng belongs to a conservative Christian church, Winners Chapel International, that considers homosexuality a disease that can be cured. He also has advocated light sentences in several rape cases and often sympathized with the attackers.

While the president must take into account the recommendations of the nation's Judicial Commission, which held a hearing last weekend on Mogoeng's nomination, the final appointment is up to him. In making his Thursday announcement, Zuma commended Mogoeng's "dignified silence" toward opponents of his appointment, who included South African human rights activists and international figures such as Nobel Peace Prize winners Jody Williams of the United States, Shirin Ebadi of Iran, and Mairead Maguire of Ireland. The chief justice position also now makes him head of the Judicial Commission.

In the commission hearing, Mogoeng said he believed God picked him to lead the Constitutional Court, on which he has been a justice for two years (he will serve 10 years as chief justice, as his overall term on the court is 12 years). He also denied that he is antigay, but said "My church's opposition to homosexuality is not something peculiar to it, nor does the church have as its core value the attitude that homosexuality should not be practiced or is a deviant behavior. It is based purely on the biblical injunction that a man should marry a woman and that there shall be a husband and a wife."

He once controversially dissented from a majority Constitutional Court ruling that it was not defamatory to call someone homosexual because homosexuals are protected by the South African constitution. His rulings in cases of rape and other attacks on women also have drawn criticism.

For instance, he reduced a sentence of a man convicted of attempting to rape a 7-year-old girl, saying it was the man's first offense and the girl was not seriously injured; expressed doubt that a 14-year-old rape victim suffered serious pain; declined to issue a prison sentence for a husband convicted of raping his wife, saying the man used minimum force; and rejected imprisonment in favor of a fine for a man who tied his girlfriend to a car and dragged her over gravel at high speed, with Mogoeng contending the woman had provoked the attack.

Activists worried that his appointment could threaten South Africa's constitutional protections for LGBT rights and court precedents recognizing same-sex marriages. "His convictions are clearly in contradiction with the constitution. The appointed person believes he has been sent by God to save the country," said Mazibuko Jara of the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, according to the Times. "I find it impossible to believe he can separate his convictions from what he does in the court. ... Can you imagine if he had to deal with a case on same-sex marriage, given that he believes his mandate comes from God?"

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.