South Africa rights groups condemn Jacob Zuma’s choice of top judge

| August 26, 2011

Civil rights groups in South Africa have condemned Jacob Zuma‘s choice for the role of the country’s top judge, arguing that the nominee’s views on gender equality and marital rape “make a mockery” of the country’s constitutional rights.

Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng was a surprise pick for the position of chief justice, with many critics arguing that he lacked the experience and qualifications of rival candidates. His apparently socially conservative views have also come under scrutiny because, as the head of South Africa‘s constitutional court, he will be responsible for upholding one of the most progressive constitutions in the world.

Documents seen by the Guardian detail appeal cases at the superior court over the past decade in which Mogoeng’s judgments are being questioned by gender and legal activists.

One was a 2001 appeal by a man named Mathibe who tied a woman to the bumper of his car and “drove that vehicle at a fairly high speed over a distance of about 50 metres”.

Mogoeng ruled that the two-year sentence imposed was “too harsh by any standards”. Among his reasons were that the accused had been “provoked” and “the complainant did not sustain serious injuries”.

Three years later a Mr Moipolai appealed against his sentence for the rape of his common law wife. She was eight months pregnant, and another person was present during the attack. Court records show Mogoeng upheld the conviction but reduced the 10-year sentence, meaning half was suspended for five years.

Marital rape is a crime in South Africa, but Mogoeng felt there were “mitigating factors”. He listed these as: The appellant was a first offender; the appellant and complainant were no strangers to each other (they were lovers) and said: “But for the presence of [another person], the appellant and complainant would probably have had consensual intercourse.”

Another case was the 2007 appeal of a man named Modise, who had been jailed for five years for attempted rape. He and his victim were undergoing a divorce and had not shared the same bed for almost a year.

One night, Modise went to the marital bedroom and later the complainant went to bed, where the incident took place.

Mogoeng was among the judges who suspended the man’s sentence, stating: “The desire to make love to his wife must have overwhelmed him, hence his somewhat violent behaviour. He, however, neither smacked, punched nor kicked her. Minimum force, so to speak, was resorted to in order to subdue the complainant’s resistance.”

The judges added: “The case is not comparable to a case where a lady comes across a stranger on the street who suddenly attempts to rape her.”

The documents – which also raised concerns over Mogoeng’s attitude to sexual orientation – are likely to intensify pressure on Zuma, who was cleared of a rape charge before his election as president, to rethink the nomination.

Louise Olivier, the law programme manager at the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, said: “The

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Category: Africa News

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