If God was prepared to intervene in South Africa’s judicial system once before, it may now be time for him to do so again. The last time he intervened, as many will recall, was when the Judicial Services Commission interviewed candidates to head the Constitutional Court.
Although we only have Mogoeng Mogoeng’s word for it, God’s intervention did appear to be quite decisive. When he was asked last September whether the Almighty wanted him to be chief justice, Mogoeng assured the JSC that this was indeed the case.
“I prayed and got a signal it was the right thing to do when I was approached,” he told the JSC.
“When a position comes like this one, I wouldn’t take it unless I had prayed and satisfied myself that God wants me to take it.”
He got the job.
It may now once again be necessary for divine intervention in the affairs of the Constitutional Court. Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett has been nominated for a position as a judge in the highest court of the land.
However, just a few weeks ago he was turned down for a position on the Western Cape High Court by the same JSC. The problem, it seems, was not his lack of legal experience but his lack of humility and temperament.
As the JSC explained when puzzled colleagues asked for the reasons behind the decision: “Strong reservations were… expressed about whether, as part of his attributes, he has the humility and the appropriate temperament that a judicial officer should display.”
At this stage, it is not yet clear whether the JSC will also include these attributes among its requirements for a Constitutional Court position. But, just in case, it may be appropriate for them to invite God to intervene in deliberations again this time. After all, matters of character usually fall within his domain.
However, even for him things may be a little more complicated than when he selected Mogoeng last year.
The reason is that Gauntlett does not appear to believe God will be an impartial arbiter in the process this time round.
In an interview last weekend, he suggested that God has in fact already taken a view on his appointment to the judiciary. After he failed to make it on to the Western Court bench, a disappointed Gauntlett confessed: “Unlike other candidates, I have not thought that God has called me to be a judge.”
Nor can God rely on his local representative, Jacob Zuma, to make an objective call on the matter.
After all, the president is an honorary priest of the Full Gospel Community Church, and has long ago made it known – presumably with God’s blessing – that the ANC will rule until the Second Coming.
So he, too, will be tempted to give preference to those who are perfect beings, with access to a direct hotline to heaven.
However, last year’s appointment of Mogoeng Mogoeng set a hopelessly unrealistic precedent. The likes of our Constitutional Court president are a rarity.
For better or for worse, the JSC needs to return to criteria such as legal experience and expertise when it considers candidates for our judiciary. If it does, it will be able to appoint Gauntlett in good conscience.