Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Day one: Justice Mogoeng

14 September, 2011

It was an uneventful first day in the hot seat for South Africa's new Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the Constitutional Court yesterday.

After leading the procession of green-robed judges, Justice Mogoeng appeared to have one eye on the clock most of the time.

In fact, he seemed to want to hasten along the proceedings with questions like: "Are you winding up?" or "How long are you going to take?"

He also reminded advocates to stick to their allocated time for arguments.

The judge, who described himself in church on Sunday as South Africa's third-most powerful man, spent much of the day swinging around in his chair, scratching his hair, holding his chin, looking up at the ceiling and putting his hands in front of his face as if he was engaging in silent prayer.

The court yesterday heard arguments in an application for leave to appeal against two Pretoria High Court judgments where 350 illegal occupiers of Farm Mooiplaats and Skurweplaas 353 are challenging their eviction.

The illegal occupants contend that it would not be just and equitable to evict them and want the City of Tshwane to provide alternative accommodation.
Judge Zak Yacoob seemed to have been in control of the proceedings during the first hour, firing one question after another.

Other judges Johann van der Westhuizen, Thembile Skweyiya, Bess Nkabinde and Johan Froneman spent the day throwing a volley of questions to counsel.
And while most commentators would have expected some sign of hostility between Judge Mogoeng and his deputy, justice Dikgang Moseneke, they seemed comfortable with each other.

At some stage during the morning, Justice Mogoeng rolled his chair towards his deputy and had a quick chat.

It took 40 minutes for Justice Moseneke to break the ice when he seemed to lose his patience with Advocate Rudolph Jansen, representing the illegal occupants, for not having put forward fundamental issues for his case.

Jansen argued that it appeared that the City of Tshwane did not have enough land for urbanisation and that it was the duty of the municipality to prevent homelessness and provide his clients with alternative accommodation.

"A lack of available land cannot serve as some form of influx control.
"The best way to ensure the protection of property rights in an urban area is to ensure that everyone has some property rights," argued Jansen.

Perhaps Judge Mogoeng's most significant moment, although not entirely a glorious one, came when he seemed unable to intervene in the questioning of advocate Johan Botha, for the City of Tshwane. The proceedings ran into the lunch break by 30 minutes.

Apparently, this was one of the longest overruns ever in the history of the Constitutional Court.

With that, Judge Mogoeng ended his first day as the highest judge in the land, saying they were reserving judgment.

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