South African Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. Photo: GCIS.

Johannesburg - Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng called on South Africans to be sympathetic to the plight of the poor masses ahead of global Mandela Day festivities on Thursday. 

Mogoeng targeted the heart strings of the audience at the Hope Restoration Ministries in Kempton Park, where he was the keynote speaker at a People Matter Foundation event on Wednesday.  

He called on people to emulate Nelson Mandela, not only by words, but by actions and compassion for the thousands who went to bed hungry everyday. He called on the audience to consider the living conditions of the poor, who lived in squalor, in places like Diepsloot, Alexandra and Khayelitsha.

Mogoeng spoke on a number of themes, including his take on corruption, on election funding, on indigineous languages, on poverty and on emulating Mandela. 

ON CORRUPTION - ‘It takes two to tango’ 

“It looks like we have channeled ourselves into believing, that corruption can only be in the public sector. Believe you me, it takes two to tango. 


"We will never be able to defeat corruption for as long as we allow ourselves to be choreographed into believing that corruption can only be in the public sector. Let me crude about it, so that we can get a rude awakening, that it is a Black thing. Every human being is capable of being corrupt. We have not even scratched the surface of the corruption in the private sector. We have got to accept as a reality that there are masters of corruption everywhere, even in the church of God,” said Mogoeng. 

Mogoeng called on South Africans to not allow a situation where some in the public fora, had an “undeserved Saintly status.

“... You will find corruption anywhere. (Let’s) make it our business not to beautify others at the expense of others, and make others untouchable, not to allow anybody, including me, to be rendered an underserved Saintly status,” he said.

ON ELECTION FUNDING - ‘There is no free lunch’

“We need to allow ourselves to be captured by the ideal of a democratic and free society. I’m in the habit these days of saying what is democracy? A government of the people by the people and for the people. 

“Does it continue to be so when you stand no chance of winning elections unless you are connected to the financially well-resourced. If they fund you to a point where you succeed and win, are you not captured in advance?

“We need to think deep about how capture happens. There is no free lunch - and never for the millions. You may get lunch for a R1000, but once they begin to give you R1m, R3m, R5m, R50m or R100m, whether I set you up in business or in government, there will be pay back time. Why should I make you a millionaire, why should I prefer you to others, its an investment,” he said. 

Mogoeng appeared to be advocating for electoral reform, whereby he said the State should be responsible for funding the political campaigns of all the candidates who ran for office. He said this would in turn, make leaders beholden to the public, and not private interests. 

“We must not lazily accept what is already there, what is already there is a product of how far others could go to find a solution. Because that system has not worked, nothing stops us from saying isn’t there another way. 

“Where there is a will, there is a way. We have got to say, this thing of funding whoever they choose to annoint as future ministers and presidents doesn’t work for Africa,” he said. 

ON AFRICAN LANGUAGES - ‘Our kids can’t speak five sentences without adding English’

“I have never understood why (African) languages were removed from the education system, particularly at the formative stages of the child. I was taught everything, maths, biology, in my mother tongue - which made it easy to grasp the concept. 

“It was only when I went higher (that) the language was changed, that is why I can articulate myself in my mother tongue. Take an average African child (in a Model C/private school today), they can’t speak five sentences without adding English, somehow we have been whipped into believing you are not wise if you speak your mother tongue. 

“I say to people, it is a shame… I appreciate there is a lot of damage which comes with colonization and neo-colonization, but you can decide to liberate yourself from that,” said Mogoeng. 

He also said although reintroducing indigineous languages would require resources, he was also calling on communities to adhere to the ‘African value system’ of respect for others and the elderly, respect for self and respect for property of others. 

He also condemned the burning of schools and tyres in community protests.

ON POVERTY - ‘Poverty in Africa is nauseating’ 

“What are you committed to? … Until you grasp the fundamentals of the situation of the African people, you will never really feel impaled to do anything about their plight. The kind of poverty in Africa is nauseating. 

“If you are the leader we all ought to be, you ought to draw a tear from time to time, upon the reality that in a continent as well-endowed with minerals and resources, with fertile soil, multitudes go to bed on a hungry stomach. You simply have to look at the so-called houses many live in, the levels of illiteracy the exploitation and suffering, what are we doing about, where is the commitment?

WASHED OUT: Alexandra residents search for their belongings after a raging Jukskei River swept their shacks away.

“There is nothing about Nelson Mandela to show in our individual lives. Have you made your business to reflect on the plight of the African people Mandela was talking about?

“Does it matter when you pass Khayelitsha, Alexandra, Diepsloot, none of us should allow this to be normalised - what are we doing about it?”

Mogoeng challenged the guests to internalise the fight against injustice and challenged them to report back on their progress at the same event next year. 

ON MODELLING MANDELA - ‘What are you prepared to die for?’ 

“What are you prepared to die for? I know, many are prepared to kill for money, and even for positions. What Mandela-like ideal are you prepared to die for? Let us move away from what we expected to say. 

Nelson Mandela. Picture: Gary Bernard African News Agency (ANA) Archives

“When in fact that which we profess to be our vision, conviction is far removed from what we really want and what we really about. 

“We have suffered enough for 25 years. A lot of good has been done, I wouldn’t be where I am (as Chief Justice)… a lot of progress has been made, there is a lot to celebrate, but there is a lot to lament. There are far too many missed opportunities. It’s not too late. If only we don't allow it to be business as usual,” he said.