“The government of the day should be based on the will of the people and must be led by people who deserve to lead us.”
These were the words of Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, the Chief Justice of the Republic of South Africa, during a prestige lecture delivered in the Faculty of Law on the Bloemfontein Campus of the University of the Free State (UFS) on 30 August 2019.
In addressing the topic of ‘Transformative Constitutionalism’, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said this simply meant that the constitution was used as a tool to change or move a family, society, institution or the nation from an unacceptable to a more desirable position.
He added that constitutionalism can be enhanced through ethical, courageous, and visionary leadership.
“There is a belief that judges should have nothing to do with matters of politics. I agree, but only to a certain extent. Judges are supposed to deal with political issues, as they interpret the constitution and the law. It is inescapable in a South African context. Some say that judges should only speak through their judgments. I’ve always said that our constitution is political in nature.
“The preamble of our Constitution says this country belongs to all who live in it, but to what extent have we allowed our Constitution to achieve these objectives? A constitution does not implement itself.
“It takes people with a particular mindset and conviction. Transformation demands from the public to ensure that government is truly based on the will of the people,” he said.
According to the Chief Justice, South Africa needs strong and well-resourced institutions – including a strong judiciary. Institutions must be vigilant for any form of abuse of power and capture.
“Institutions cannot only be captured by external forces. They can be captured internally as well. Another crucial element is education and the quality and condition of higher education at every level. “Our school system must allow the youth who are coming from high school to be able to adapt with ease when they get to university.
“We need people who truly love their country to assume positions of power. Transformative constitutionalism is all about giving expression in a practical way. We should look at solutions for our country based on a compromise that can bring us together as South Africans.”
He paid tribute to people such as former President Nelson Mandela, Mama Albertina Sisulu, and Bram Fischer, who opted for the greater good of many, rather than personal satisfaction and gain.
“South Africa belongs to all – not some – who live in it, united in our diversity. Are you prepared to serve the state? Do you love this nation? Go out there and pursue social justice. Don’t buy things from thieves just because they are cheap. You are encouraging crime.
“We can’t continue this way and expect a different outcome. It is not too late; go out there and contribute towards building South Africa that we can be proud of,” he concluded.
Hosted by Prof John Mubangizi, Dean of the UFS Faculty of Law, the prestige lecture was attended by approximately 800 guests, comprising senior members of the Supreme Court of Appeal, the High Court, the university’s executive management, the Faculty of Law, staff members, students, and members of the public.
The Prestige Lecture Series was originally known as the Law Deans’ Prestige Lecture Series and was initiated by Prof Johan Henning, former Dean of the UFS Faculty of Law.
The series started in 2011 as an initiative to encourage, develop, and expand the academic discourse on topical jurisprudential issues and other related matters.
Previous lectures were delivered by, among others, Prof Barry Rider from the University of Cambridge in the UK; Justice Richard Goldstone, formerly of the Constitutional Court of South Africa; former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke; and more recently, Judge Dennis Davies, who was acting in the Supreme Court of Appeal.