By: Clyde Ramalaine
Chief Justice Mogoeng finds himself under attack from a slew of condemnations for his recent utterances made in a webinar address in his personal capacity. Mogoeng was participating in an ‘exclusive webinar’ which also included Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein and was moderated by Yaakov Katz editor-in-chief of the ‘The Jerusalem Post.’
What did Mogoeng say?
Words attributed to Mogoeng among others included, “The first verse I give is in Psalms 122 verse 6 which says: ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee’. Also, Genesis 12 verses 1 to 3 says to me as a Christian, if I curse Abraham and Israel the Almighty God will curse me too. So, I am under an obligation as a Christian to love Israel, to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which actually means the peace of Israel. I cannot, as a Christian, do anything other than love and pray for Israel because I know hatred for Israel by me and my nation can only attract unprecedented curses upon our nation”. [sic] These words of Mogoeng stirred the proverbial ire and solicited a litany of insults and responses from among other political parties, retired jurists and academics. It is demanded that he retracts, and one political party insists that he repents.
Mogoeng also said, “I think as a citizen of this country, we are denying ourselves a wonderful opportunity of being game-changers in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. We know what it means to be at loggerheads, to be a nation at war with itself.”
Let me upfront admit anyone who has been subjected to apartheid such as I was and who have fought against racial oppression as many of us did while subscribing to the Christian Faith and later a theologian by profession can attest to one’s personal and internal dialectical tension when we read the same verses Mogoeng cited on the Middle East conflict. It is more natural to identify with Palestine out of a shared past SA. The quest for justice would see me naturally on the side of the Palestinians. However, as a believer, I learned long ago I must be cautious not to make my personal experience or ideology sacrosanct as my theology.
There is little doubt that Chief Justice Mogoeng has every right to a personal and public opinion on any matter and that does not exclude the ongoing controversial Middle – East conflict. There is also no evidence that Mogoeng since the advent of his tenure was found wanting in the application of the law in his rulings on any matter, he either presided over in majority ruling or where he wrote a minor ruling. Did his statement compromise SA’s international policy on a two-state Israel and Palestine hope? Certainly not according to any evidence before us.
The ascendance to the high office of CJ for Mogoeng Mogoeng, the North-West born jurist, a devout Christian and lay-priest in The Winners Chapel Church, was not easy. We will remind ourselves how quickly an unsubstantiated narrative developed of him being unfit. We know that some preferred the then DCJ Dikgang Moseneke who while being a candidate for the position presided over the interview of Mogoeng. Mogoeng like many who disagree with mainstream media narratives quickly was labelled a Zuma supporter who needed to be watched with hawk eyes for his religious fundamentalism. That was the politically convenient picture SA was meticulously introduced to as led by mainstream media. Albeit devoid of any factual substance.
Let us not forget Mogoeng Mogoeng was brave to tell a full panel of interviewers and SA if he gets to become Chief Justice it would be because the God whom he professes as a born-again Christian placed him there. Meaning at an essential level he didn’t see the panel or a president making him the CJ of SA, but the God whom he professes. That God is understood from a Christian Faith Tradition with the Bible as the Holy Writ. This did not sit well with some. Yet it is the same Mogoeng who led the ‘Healing the Nation Service’ as broadcasted on eNCA on April 12, 2020.
What then is at stake here?
It is my submission that Mogoeng is under fire for nothing but the citations of the Christian Holy Writ. Mogoeng ought to be entitled to cite a Biblical verse as is done regularly in our discourses or even in parliament as the Finance Minister Tito Mboweni in the same week with his amended budget speech did, in metaphorical reference, to a Biblical ‘narrow’ and ‘broad gate’ comparisons. It goes without saying that for all believers in particular of the more common religions there exist an accepted Holy Writ, from which morality, praxis and often epistemologies stem. These they hold dear as inerrant, final in God-speech and supreme to anything else.
It’s not unique for Christians, but is common for practising Jews and Muslims equally. Now if the Sacred Text is commonly referred to in daily discourse without any challenge or red-flagged why was it wrong for CJ Mogoeng to cite verses in a religious conversation that under normal circumstances would be fitting and appropriate? Is it expected that he should have used another more palatable scripture per se? Or on another level should these scriptures be torn from the Christian Holy Writ as irrelevant in the here and now because of the prevailing wrongs of Israel towards a Palestine and others?
One would better understand my postulation of an attack on the Christian Holy Writ when you read the SAFTU statement that reduces this Biblical Text to a 2000-year-old ancient text thus by extension misplaced an irrelevant for the here and now. The SAFTU statement in this regard asserts, ‘He [Mogoeng] makes assertions about Israel, based not on any evidence but on quotes from ancient texts written 2000 or more years ago which have absolutely nothing to do with Israel today, and then use these texts to condone violations of every principle that he and his court are mandated to protect.” SAFTU with this conclusion claims to know of the delinking of an ancient and current Israel not an uncommon stance in some quarters.
For the record I do not know of any Christian that denies its Holy Writ to be ancient, yet why would an ancient notion be raised when the same is true of The Torah or Quran albeit to varying degrees of age. For Christians all Biblical Scripture is God-breathed to be understood in contextual background in a particular epoch yet relevant and applicable in a timeless epoch.
The attack on Chief Justice Mogoeng for his participation in this virtual meeting has less to do with him participating, but his citation of Biblical Scriptures that endorses Israel as a people to be prayed for. He stands accused for merely citing and then articulating what most practicing Christians know the Scriptures teach on Israel.
Howard University-based academic Ziyaad Motala, who is cited by many, in a very patronising tone of rebuke asserted, “It is astonishing that you absolve Israel from any blame with respect to protecting and fortifying apartheid. And you give Israel a pass based on an odious reading of scripture. For the record, Israel is deeply culpable in the support and fortifying of the apartheid state and the brutalisation of the Black majority.” Important to note is that Motala fails to give us his reading with the relevant application for interpretation of the Scripture that he accuses Mogoeng as citing extremely repulsively.
In the absence of Motala sharing with us his apparent correct interpretation for an application of the Scripture in question, we may only surmise he like others share the prism that the Biblical Israel is mutually exclusive, and fundamentally distinct from the current Israel. In this sense Motala is not new since there are several schools on Israel in election and rejection. One school of thought also associates with those who uphold the notion of a ‘Replacement Theology’ epistemology, which advances the Biblical God as having rejected Israel, broke off his covenant with them in preference of a new group of believers. Well, there exists no Biblical evidence to support the idea that Israel however biblically defined was rejected by God in the finality of being HIS people. A closer reading of Old Testament writings leads one to acknowledge there is more than congruence to suggest the subject of continuity of an Israel from God’s original promises to Abram [whom HE made Abraham] which includes generations to come. This covenant as we read from a variety of Scriptures is from generation to generation.
Without being misread to justify any wrong Israel as we all know have committed, it is not even possible to deduce that God rejected Israel and hence ceased HIS initiated covenant because Israel sinned. God did not choose the Biblical Israel because it walked upright, did what was right, or acted in circumspect. HE chose them despite them.
Beyond the Old Testament scriptures, we read of an occasion where the historical Jesus encounters the tax collector Zacchaeus in the act of repentance and salvation as recorded in Chapter 19 verse 9 of the Lukan Gospel. We read the following words spoken by Jesus, “….today salvation has come to this house because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.”
Shall we ask, who gets to decide on the Sacred Text of others as relevant in the situational application? Is the Torah and Quran equally subjected to this application and relevancy tests of people in identity of religious frames, if not why not?
What Mogoeng shared on what Israel and Palestine can learn from SA is wholly lost in translation because all some heard was an espoused love for Israel which in turn must automatically mean a hate for Palestine. This is read into Mogoeng’s citing of scriptures; Unfortunately, this assumption is leading our current discourse and has quickly become the metanarrative for political parties and politicians to condemn Mogoeng.
In conclusion is it possible that those who for the better part of Mogoeng’s tenure from before his appointment struggled with him now have found an ideologically sensitive point with which they hope to lynch him.