‘It is a shame that inequality is sharper during our democracy’


The 17th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture was recently delivered by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng at the University of Johannesburg.

This is an edited version of his speech. The purpose of this lecture ought to be what is wrong with our society? How did it come about that 25 years down the line we still have people without homes, so many people, everywhere you go, we still have racial discrimination, ethnicity, gender discrimination, even tribalism? 

We need to be strong and united as the people of South Africa. We never used to be united as black and white people of this country as you know, but unity is essential for the realisation of what President Nelson Mandela refers to as “the vision enshrined in this Constitution”.

We have to “give practical expression to the injustices of the past”.  And anybody who says, please stop blaming it on apartheid and colonialism is being mischievous.What we cannot do is to blame it all on colonialism and apartheid, but most of the problems that we have to contend with right now are a direct consequence of colonialism and apartheid. 

We all have the responsibility to build this country. 
• We have a great country, good people. Let us not waste time polarising society. Let us not waste efforts and energy, seeing ourselves as white and black people as if we are enemies. Let’s focus on principle. Let’s confront and expose any institution and anybody who practices discrimination and let us look for practical steps to put an end to these injustices. It really is a shame that 25 years down the line, we still have so many of our people suffering as much as they do, it is a shame that inequality has become sharper during our constitutional democracy than during apartheid, and check who is at the top?

As a South African, you have got to want to  know other languages, we can’t just be learning English, you’ve got to know TshiVenda, isiXhosa, if you are committed to building the unity that we so desperately need, and without which we will be as stagnant as we have been, or relatively stagnant as we have been for the past 25 years; you’ve got to know the languages, know the cultures, seek to understand the situation of your fellow South Africans. 
We should not be ashamed of praying. We should not be made to be ashamed of prayer. 
When you pray, you are not insulting Bishop Mutula – you are making a request for your people, whether it will be granted or not is a different story. 

We dare not forget that Madiba was so committed to the fundamental human rights that are embodied in our Constitution that he was prepared to die in the pursuit of that idea. I’m reliably informed that they took a decision that if the death penalty were to be imposed during the Rivonia Trial, they were not going to appeal.

What a shame to know that some of us, even if you see the most heinous of crimes being committed, just because a criminal threatens you, you would rather have that little girl suffer; it becomes none of your business, you’d rather have gangsters terrorising our people just to protect your own skin.

You must know, there is an attempt to capture the judiciary and a captured judiciary will never be able to use the Constitution as an instrument of transformation, because any captured member of the judiciary will simply be told or will know in advance, when so and so; and so and so are involved, we better know your place.

Our environment is polluted, Aljazeera conducted a documentary and interviewed a geologist, a South African, who said I cautioned these people about the dangers and they said it was too expensive.

Too expensive? When human life is involved? And what did we say, because I’m not the only one who saw it; but I think I’m speaking now for the fourth or more time on that incident; the reason that there is no change, is that even when there is something shocking that the Constitution demands of us to contribute towards rooting it out, we mind our own business. We say nothing about it. Who is talking about that highly toxic material? What are we doing about it? And if nothing is done, it means others elsewhere have been embolden to dump more and more toxic material. 

Our rivers are toxified as we speak right now. Our dams, our oceans, who is saying what about them? In view of what just happened to Mozambique, to India, to America as a result of the love of money, the worshiping of money that doesn’t care about fundamental human rights? Our fauna and flora, rhinos, elephants and so on, our trees; much treasured trees are being ravaged with boldness. What are we doing about it?  Tthe kind of pollution you see in India will soon come here if you allow people that have an insatiable appetite for money in government and in the private sector, to do as they please on the future of our children.


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