JOHANNESBURG: The South African President, Jacob Zuma, has brushed aside criticism from gay rights and women’s groups and appointed a conservative Christian as the new Chief Justice, a move that will have an impact on the country’s judicial system for at least a decade.
Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, who told a judicial panel last weekend he believed God chose him to head the Constitutional Court, is a member of the Winners Chapel, which believes homosexuality is a disease and ”curable”.
He has been criticised for decisions that threw out jail sentences for men convicted of marital rape or assaulting their girlfriends and reduced the sentences of men convicted of raping children.
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Justice Mogoeng will lead the court during the last decade of his 12-year term. The court decides questions related to the constitution.
He also will head the Judicial Services Commission, which advises the president on judicial appointments.
At a commission hearing on Justice Mogoeng’s appointment last week, the judge dismissed charges that he was anti-gay.
”My church’s opposition to homosexuality is not something peculiar to it, nor does the church have as its core value the attitude that homosexuality should not be practised or is a deviant behaviour. It is based purely on the biblical injunction that a man should marry a woman and that there shall be a husband and a wife,” he said.
He also said that he had presided over several rape cases where he had imposed substantial sentences.
Gay and women’s activists fear that passages in the constitution, notably those guaranteeing equal rights for gays and lesbians, and subsequent court decisions protecting gay marriage could be undermined.
”His convictions are clearly in contradiction with the constitution,” Mazibuko Jara, a spokesperson for the Lesbian and Gay Equality Project, said. ”I find it impossible to believe he can separate his convictions from what he does in the court.”
Justice Mogoeng’s critics cite several past cases to explain their concern.
He overturned the jail sentence of a man who tied his girlfriend to a car and dragged her over gravel at high speed. His decided the sentence was too harsh because he felt the victim ”provoked” her attacker. Instead, he imposed a $US570 fine.
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