Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, at the Ceremonial Court Session to Mark the Retirement of Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, Constitutional Court, 20 May 2016
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng
Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke
Former Presidents Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe
The Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Ms Thandi Modise, MP
Justices of the Constitutional Court and all judges present
The Moseneke family
Representatives from Advocates for Transformation, BLA, Nadel, the Law Society of South Africa, the General Council of the Bar, the National Prosecuting Authority and the legal profession
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
In a speech in May last year, Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke speaks about how, in traditional African culture, the shade of a tree was the place where disputes of society were mediated and resolved. The community would meet for a lekgotla and there was room for all to have their say. Everyone participated in the process. This is how justice was done. It is, what the Deputy Chief Justice calls, “the age-old concept of justice under a tree”.
He continues to say that the Court we are in today is a gentle reminder of this. The overarching theme of the Constitutional Court building is justice under a tree and, as former Justice Sachs described it, the tree protects the people, and the people look after the tree.
This is a striking symbol of the synergy between justice and the people.
Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke has dedicated a lifetime in protecting that tree.
From the tender age of 13, he fought for what was right. In 1960 Dikgang Moseneke saw what had happened in Sharpeville. He later recalled, and I quote, -
“The inequality was egregious. You could see it out there, jumping at you as a young person … My sense of fairness was inbred and I think it’s inbred in every child….
And just remember the sense of right and wrong of young people. My grandchildren now tell me: ‘Grandpa, why does he get two sweets and I get only one? It’s unfair, grandpa.’ The kids are the first to say it.”
As a result of seeing the Sharpeville Massacre he decided to join the African Student Union. Three years later he was taken from his home by the police. For 90 days, he was tortured and held in solitary confinement.
In many of the interviews and articles written about the Deputy Chief Justice, there is one person who stands out – his mother, Mrs Karabo Moseneke. In a speech delivered in 2011, the Deputy Chief Justice says: “Those who know me will tell you that my hero of all times is my mother.”
Mrs Moseneke tells of how, when he was detained in 1963, his family had no idea where he was being taken and how they searched and searched. When Mrs Moseneke eventually found out where he was, he was about to stand trial. Every day the police would ask Mrs Moseneke the same question: if she was “Number Six’s mother”. And every day, she would give the same reply: “Tell them that I am the mother, I am definitely the mother.” Then the guards would tell her that her son, Number Six, was sure to hang. At his trial, his parents begged the judge not to send their son to jail. But Dikgang Moseneke was sentenced to 10 years in jail for conspiracy and sabotage. He became the youngest prisoner ever to be taken to Robben Island.
Much has been said about the Deputy Chief Justice’s academic achievements – in particular how he completed his matric, a BA in English and Political Science and a B Juris whilst on the island, and later his LLB.
We also know of his involvement in the now-famous Makana Football Association, whilst on the island.
But what struck me most is how Mrs Moseneke, being a school teacher, could only visit her son on the island during school holidays and how she would drive from all the way from Gauteng to Cape Town, just to be able to see her son for only 30 minutes.
She was shocked by how hungry and emaciated he was, and she tells of how she persuaded a warden to let her give her son a foil-wrapped roast chicken, which he devoured, as she says, “bones and all”.
His story is one of inspiration.
The teenaged political prisoner from Robben Island, by virtue of his razor-sharp intellect and his dedication to justice, became a candidate attorney, who became an attorney, who became an advocate, then a silk, then a High Court judge in 2001, a Constitutional Court judge in 2002 and has served this country and its people as our Deputy Chief Justice since 2005.
His achievements, accolades, awards and professional appointments are formidable.
City Press, in a 2012 article about the Constititonal Court, writes that the court consists of a progressive bench, including, I quote, “constitutional rock stars like Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke…”
Speaking from the side of the Executive, our courts have over the past two decades held government accountable to ensure, in particular, the socio-economic rights of the poor and vulnerable.
Whether it be health care, housing, social grants or the eviction of homeless people, our courts, under the able leadership of judges like the Deputy Chief Justice, have not shied away from compelling government to do what the Constitution requires.
We know him as a highly principled, fearless and outspoken jurist – one who never shies away from speaking his mind, one who pronounces on the law without fear, favour or prejudice, a man who is not afraid to speak truth to power.
I would argue, that what really makes him a “constitutional rock star” is his humanity.
It is his ability to comprehend the human condition, to see human beings as human beings, not as mere parties to litigation, which makes Dikgang Moseneke one of the most respected and astute legal minds in the history of our country.
In his interview before the Judicial Service Commission in May 2005, in response to a question from Adv George Bizos, he said:
“You see, talking about bitterness, Mr Bizos ….. or the lack of it rather, that you talked about, it has been a difficult past. It has been a difficult past for all of us. Mine is just one small example, but it has been a difficult past for the whole nation…
But once we came to where we are, not just me personally, our Constitution is reconciliatory. It is embracing. In fact sitting in it is that embracing communal African value of accepting everybody for their worth…
There is no time to waste hating others.
There is all the time to require of them to help us change and reconstruct this country in a non-racial, non-sexist environment and that is where my strength personally comes from and I think that is the strength that informs our Constitution, that informs all of us.”
Ladies and gentlemen,
Ona lighter note, the other thing that you perhaps didn’t know about our Deputy Chief Justice is that in March this year, I received a memorandum requesting me to appoint him as an Acting Additional Magistrate for Randburg – but it was only for a day, in order for him to solemnize a marriage.
So, Deputy Chief Justice, you know one can only play so much golf in one’s retirement so if, at any stage in future, you may feel that you miss the courts, we can always perhaps just revisit that appointment for Randburg…
I also have it on good authority from Minister Jeff Radebe that the Deputy Chief Justice not only learnt mathematics from his father, a teacher at Kilnerton High School in Pretoria, but also a love of tennis and ballroom dancing. So, to the producers of Strictly Come Dancing, take note.
Deputy Chief Justice Moseneke is also, as far as I know, the only judge who has a rose named after him.
And that the rose should carry the Deputy Chief Justice’s name is very apt, because the ‘Dikgang Moseneke’ rose is described as a red garden cut-rose with buds of scarlet red which develop into very full blooms. They are long lasting and each are carried on strong stems. It is vigorous and very prolific.
After the pain and thorns of institutionalised apartheid, our constitutional democracy and human rights jurisprudence, in particular, have blossomed.
Just as the rose is carried on strong stems, so too have great legal minds like Dikgang Moseneke been the strong stems that uphold our Constitution.
Like this rose has been described as vigorous, so has the Deputy Chief Justice been vigorous in his pursuit of the rule of law, the attainment of human rights and of justice for all.
Deputy Chief Justice, as we honour you here today I want to present you with the rose which carries your name. When you plant it in your garden, every time you see it bloom, please know that your legacy and your contribution to our Constitution and our country has been invaluable.
We wish you all the very best in your retirement, may you enjoy the time to spend with your wife, Kabo, your children and your grandchildren.
We salute you and your enormous contribution to the freedom that we enjoy today.