Moseneke – guardian of our Constitution
There is an apocryphal story in political circles that tries to explain the inexplicable snubbing of newly retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke for the job of chief justice.
Those with knowledge of the dynamics of Robben Island say it goes back to prison days. As the youngest inmate on the island, the 15-year-old Moseneke forged ahead with his high school education as soon as he began his sentence. After matriculating, he continued with his studies, completing a BA, a B Juris and eventually an LLB.
In a cell nearby was another young man who, instead of completing his schooling, spent his time playing board games. The older ANC prisoners, so the story goes, kept using the Pan Africanist Congress-affiliated Moseneke as an example as they prodded Jacob Zuma to use his jail time productively. This riled Zuma to no end, and he remembered it when it was payback time.
The real reason is much simpler – and more sinister. As a lawmaker, Moseneke’s absolute adherence to, and public pronouncements on, principle did not sit well with a post-Polokwane Zuma ANC that was about to wield a baseball bat at the law and constitutionalism. The former made the big mistake of publicly stating that judges would not be guided by politics, but always by the law and what is good for the people and the Constitution that serves its citizens.
For this, he was penalised by being overlooked twice when his peers, the legal profession and the public could see he was the obvious choice. It was a mean streak of politics on the part of Zuma and those around him. But true to the greatness of the man, Moseneke did not sulk. He continued serving South Africa from where he was, shaping jurisprudence and ensuring the apex court remained the guardian of our constitutional order.
As Moseneke ends his life of formal service this week, South Africa says thank you.