PRETORIA (AFP) – President Jacob Zuma on Thursday appointed an evangelical pastor, Mogoeng Mogoeng, as South Africa’s top judge despite criticism of his stance on gays and crimes against women.
“It is my pleasure and honour to announce today the appointment of honourable chief justice Mogoeng Thomas Reetsang Mogoeng as the chief justice of the Republic of South Africa,” Zuma told a press conference.
Consultations on Mongoeng’s appointment to the head of the Constitutional Court were “by no means unanimous, as can be expected in a vibrant and diverse democracy as ours,” Zuma added.
An ordained pastor, Mogoeng was appointed to the Constitutional Court in 2009 after serving as president of the North West High Court. Zuma passed over several more experience jurists in making the appointment.
In two days of public hearings last week, Mogoeng pushed back against accusations that he was homophobic and insensitive to rape victims.
“I undertake not to betray this trust. I also vow to be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, to uphold and protect the constitution, and the human rights entrenched in it,” Mogoeng said.
“I do so confident that God will help me accomplish this important assignment.”
Mogoeng had come under fire from key jurists, the country’s main labour federation Cosatu, and women and gay rights groups.
Most of the criticism centred on cases in which he had reduced penalties for convicted rapists, and his role in Winners Chapel International — a church that condemns homosexuality.
Women Nobel Peace Prize winners — including Ireland’s Mairead Maguire, American Jody Williams and Iran’s Shirin Ebadi — joined in the criticism.
“Many of his rulings have undermined the severity of the crime of rape and its consequences for victims and invoke dangerous myths about rape that often blame the victims themselves and excuse perpetrators of egregious crimes,” they said in a statement.
Mogoeng has disputed the claims that he is insensitive to rape cases, saying he has also sentenced convicted rapists to long terms from 10 years to life. He also notes that the constitution, which enshrines gay rights, also allows him freedom of religion.