'I wanted Moseneke as chief justice'

Honourable Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke at the Constitutional Court. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
Honourable Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke at the Constitutional Court. Picture Credit: Gallo Images

Former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled by the ANC while planning to recommend to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) that it appoint retired Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke as the country's top judge.

Mbeki, who was recalled by the ANC in September 2008, revealed in the foreword of Moseneke's recently published memoir, My Own Liberator, that he wanted him to replace the late Chief Justice Pius Langa, who was due to retire in October 2009.

"I therefore decided that one of the things I would do before leaving office would be to propose to the JSC that then Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke should replace Chief Justice Langa once the latter had completed his mandated period of service," Mbeki wrote.

He continued: "Unfortunately, this was not to be, as the national executive committee of the ANC decided to 'recall' me in September 2008".

Had Mbeki succeeded with his plan, retired Chief Justice Sandile Ngcobo would not have replaced Langa in 2009 and Mogoeng Mogoeng would not have been appointed Chief Justice two years later. Moseneke only retired in May this year after completing his 15-year term as a Constitutional Court judge.

President Jacob Zuma bungled the extension of Ngcobo's appointment as his decision was found by the Constitutional Court to be inconsistent with the Constitution, invalid and therefore of no force and effect in July 2011.

This followed a Constitutional Court bid by the Justice Alliance of SA, Freedom Under Law, Wits University's Centre for Applied Legal Studies and the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution to have the extension of Ngcobo's appointment declared unconstitutional as it delegated to Zuma power to decide whether to extend a chief justice's term.

The organisations argued that this amounted to an improper relationship between the executive and judiciary and contravened the constitutionally-enshrined separation of powers.

Ngcobo was forced to step down.

Zuma then controversially nominated and later appointed Mogoeng to replace Ngcobo, overlooking Moseneke again. Mbeki wrote that he was certain Moseneke lived up to expectations when discharging his judicial responsibilities.

"It was precisely because of this that we appointed him deputy chief justice, which also informed my resolve in 2008 to nominate him for the position of chief justice to succeed Pius Langa," Mbeki explained.

Moseneke's memoir will be launched in Atteridgeville - his home town - on Saturday after last weekend's event scheduled for Wits University was cancelled due to the ongoing #FeesMustFall protests.