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Speech by Minister Jeff Radebe in the national assembly on the occasion of farewell to Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and welcoming of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng

1 November 2011

Your Excellency the President
Deputy President,
Honourable Speaker and Chairperson of the National Assembly
Chief Justice, Heads of Courts and members of the Judiciary
My colleagues in Cabinet,
Distinguished guests
Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me also add to the kind words heaped on both the former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, and to express my personal delight, at the privilege and opportunity to pay tribute to these two outstanding and distinguished fellow South Africans. The kind words expressed by members of this House, have confirmed that as we sprout into our full potentials as a nation, we have agreed on the platform from which healthy and democratic differences must be handled. This house represents both our unity on the one hand, and our various diversities on the other, as enshrined in our constitution. The sharp differences often expressed in this house, are therefore an affirmation of our flourishing democracy, and that instead of war, we have chosen peace and democracy, as our constitutional foundation to forge a future that must be commonly shared by all our people. Today’s occasion symbolises a very rare moment when the three Arms of the State put aside their separate identities and converge under one umbrella to make a united pledge of working together for the common good of the nation.

Honourable members,

The three arms of the State are fundamental to the sustainability of our democracy, as elaborated in our constitution as the speakers before me have rehearsed the point. Often the case, we see destructive tensions amongst these as spelt out in the public discourse, when in fact whatever heated tensions that may be, that must be seen as part of the creative force to forge our democratic progress as a nation State. As this House, we continue to appreciate the role of the Judiciary, and today epitomizes the smooth transition from one Chief Justice to another characteristic of our maturing democracy. Not long ago, we celebrated the retiring of esteemed commissioners of the IEC, led by its former chair Dr Brigalia Bam, distinguished fellow South Africans who have served our country outstandingly since the dawn of our democracy in 1994.

The manner in which the Justices Ngcobo and Mogoeng exchanged batons has striking ironies. Justice Ngcobo served one of the shortest term in the highest office in the judiciary in the history of our democratic government, of just under 2 years, while Justice Mogoeng endured the longest interview since the establishment of the Judicial Service Commission, of 2 days. When Justice Ngcobo’s 12thyear term to leave office suddenly arrived, Justice Ngcobo still had both energy and advantage of age that could have kept him in the active position for the next five year: At the end of two days of gruesome interview Chief Justice Mogoeng still had energy reserves in store, more than what his interviewing Judicial Service Commissioners had bargained for.

The time that Justice Ngcobo served as Chief Justice added to the time that Justice Mogoeng is eligible to serve in this highest judicial office is equivalent to a term of office of a constitutional court judge, as prescribed in section 176 of the Constitution. I am sure that the provisions of this section, as well as that of section 8 of the Judges Remuneration Act of 2001 remain fresh in our minds.

I have personally known the retiring Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo back during our student days at o-Ngoye, the then University of Zululand, while studying law. His rise to the highest office in the judiciary was not a surprise to me, because if there was any person who endeavoured for excellence, that was the retiring Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. He passed his courses with distinctions and always strived for overall excellence in his academic work. His passion for justice was evident even early then as students, and we could always count on him for fairness amongst the company of friendship that we commonly shared. If I had more time, I could regale you with more amusing details of our friendship and the persona of former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo. I was therefore very excited and proud to see one of my own contemporaries rise to assume the most senior responsibility in our judiciary when he was appointed Chief Justice of South Africa serving in our Constitutional Court.

I therefore concur with the kind words by the President and from Honourable Members of this House, on the integrity and passion for Justice by Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo.

Allow me also, honourable members, to concur with the kind words about the new Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as expounded by both the President and the various Honourable Members of this House. The passing of the baton from Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was made easier by the cooperation evident between the two Justices even before we could have begun the process of seeking a new Chief Justice, when the inevitability of the retiring of Chief Justice Ngcobo became apparent. Back in 2009, following the convening of the Judges’ Conference that year, Chief Justice Mogoeng and the retiring Chief Justice Ngcobo were chosen by their peers to oversee the implementation of the 2009 Judges’ Conference Resolutions.

The choice of other judges was not misplaced as they had indeed seen the leadership acumen in Justice Mogoeng. He was the convenor of the Case Management Committee of the Heads of Courts. In under 2 years the Committee had amassed sufficient research and case studies that they were able to convene the Access to Justice Conference in July 2011. The Conference was a resounding success and the members of the Portfolio Committee of Justice and Constitutional Development will attest to the strict schedule and commitment that Justice Mogoeng was running the Conference. So decisive and result-driven was Justice Mogoeng that he earned the title of General from some of the presenters at the Conference. He has the energy required to lead the judicial Branch of the State in the transition towards a self accounting judicial governance framework consistent to our separation of powers dictates of the Constitution.

The Access to Justice Conference was a milestone in the history of the relationships amongst the three arms of the State in our country. This conference saw the participation of the Executive and the Legislature, on a platform whose host was the judiciary. It was proof that the judiciary deems itself integral to the overall mandates to ensure access to justice to all our people, as contemplated in our constitution, probably contrary to the opinion of some critics on the relationships amongst the three arms of our State. The former Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo was host of this conference, and Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng worked tirelessly to ensure its success as Chair of the Committee tasked with its convening.

As Chief Justice Mogoeng was responsible for convening the conference, he had to submit the outcomes to the retiring Chief Justice, who was the principal host and at that time, the first among equals. I will not delve into the details of those resolutions, except to say that I am confident that this House will agree with me when I say we fully support their speedy implementation as they will go a long way in making our democracy consistent with the contemplations of our constitution on access to justice. How ironic that today as we sit here, it is now Chief Justice Mogoeng’s responsibility to implement those resolutions! He is now the first among equals.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng’s appointment, following his nomination by the President of our Republic, was characterized by gruelling public interviews, whose robustness to the faint hearted could have suggested that his stature was being demeaned.

However, his resilience in responding to the various questions put forth before him revealed his capacity to withstand the enormous pressures that comes with this very important task of leading the judiciary of our country as Chief Justice. He remained straight to the point and through the courtesy of e-tv the world was privy to witness his vindication.

Honourable members,

It is patently clear that we are a maturing democracy and that the mutual re-enforcing roles of the three arms of the State are slowly simmering into maturity. As this House, we must be proud about the manner in which as a nation we continue to evolve from strength to strength. This is evident in the regular elections when new administrative mandates are granted to government as it is also with respect to the judiciary. This transition from Chief Justice Ngcobo to Chief Justice Mogoeng represents this ongoing chain link of the stability of our democracy. In order for our democracy to grow and to be stable, not only must these three arms of the State be mutually re-enforcing, but also they must severally be robust in their own individual right. Today marks the evidence of this robustness yet peaceful and democratic process.

Therefore we are here not just to celebrate the career highlights of the two Chief Justices, but in fact to celebrate our maturing democracy and successful implementation of the text and spirit enshrined in our constitution, informing the nature of the existence of our democracy. The two Chief Justices have respectively built on the solid foundation laid by their predecessors, Justices Langa, Chaskalson, Mahomed and Corbett who themselves were legal stalwarts in their own right.

I therefore take this opportunity to wish well the retiring Chief Justice and friend, Sandile Ngcobo. As we often say within the judiciary when judges retire, we say in fact they do not effectively retire since we will from time to time call upon their expertise to resolve various challenges that require judicial wisdom. I am confident that the history of our judiciary will be incomplete without the role of formerChief Justice Ngcobo, and his enormous contribution to the evolution of our jurisprudence.

Allow me also to wish l the new broom, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, well. Having participated in the Judicial Service Commission interviews prior to his appointment, I have no doubt that Chief Justice Mogoeng is more than capable to lead our judiciary. I am confident that this House will agree with me when I say we must fully support the new Chief Justice, whose ascendancy into the most senior post in our judiciary was a result of our democratic processes. His expertise and willingness to render these to the service of our people is most welcome. I am sure he will continue with the good work started by the retiring Chief Justice Ngcobo..

As the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, we will continue to grant him support as we did to Chief Justice Ngcobo and the former Chief Justices.

Honorable members, Allow me once more to thank Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo and believe his family is the happier as he will be more available for their indulgence as a husband and a father.... Fuze! Ndawonye! Mashiy’ amahle sengathi azoshumayela. UnguMapholoba owavuk ’ ekuseni wancinda umunwe, wakhomba phezulu, lakhanya bha ilanga. Sibhebhe kaSilwane, Nkodoma wakoNjilo ibinda langalakhe. Kuthiwa inkosi kayiqedwa.[clan names.] [Applause.]

Finally, allow me also to wish Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and pledge our full support as the Executive, as this Parliament and as the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Motshweneng, Mohurutshe, Mothageng, Mokalaka – Thaga e tala – Ke agile ko mmangole Pula!!! (emphatic and pause for audience to reply) - a ene!!

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