Commenting on the backlash Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has received after a controversial prayer about Covid-19 vaccines, an advocate says: “There must sometimes be a bit of a differentiation between the man and the office.”

  • Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has defended his controversial prayer about Covid-19 vaccines. 
  • A legal expert has described the chief justice as a “reverent, religious man, who has held talks about his passion, religion and dedication to his faith”.  
  • But Judges Matter’s Alison Tilley says judges should speak primarily through their judgments, as the code of conduct reflects.

While Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng continues to receive some backlash for praying about a Covid-19 vaccine, a legal expert has described the judge as a “reverent, religious man, who has held talks about his passion, religion and dedication to his faith”.
Speaking to News24 on Friday, advocate Deon Pool said: “There must sometimes be a bit of a differentiation between the man and the office. I hear what he says, he’s a leader of our community, he’s chief justice of this country and that is his view. To my mind, that doesn’t indicate anything legal or a particular provision that would indicate anything legal.”
“The judge has been very clear about how dedicated he is to his faith and how passionate he is about it. I think it must be seen for that that he’s someone who professes his faith in a very reverent and very passionate manner.”
In his prayer, the chief justice said that any Covid-19 vaccine that was “of the devil” should be destroyed.
“I lock out any vaccine that is not of you.”
READ | Govt warns about Covid-19 vaccine misinformation amid comments from Mogoeng
“If there be any vaccine that is of the devil, meant to infuse triple-six in the lives of people, meant to corrupt their DNA, any such vaccine, Lord God Almighty, may it be destroyed by fire, in the name of Jesus.”
He was speaking during a thanksgiving ceremony at Tembisa Hospital, which was televised on SABC.
On Friday, at a media briefing to unpack the 2019/20 Judiciary Annual Report, Mogoeng was asked about his views on vaccines and the social media fallout following his prayer.
The chief justice responded that he didn’t follow trends on Twitter.
He said:
“I honestly pay very little attention to the media. I don’t know if people honestly misunderstood what I said, or deliberately misunderstood what I said. ”
“I said, if there is any vaccine manufactured to advance a satanic agenda, of the mark of the beast, 666, or if there is any vaccine manufactured for the purpose of corrupting the DNA of people – that vaccine must be burnt. God must intervene and destroy it!”
“If people are supporting a satanic agenda, they must tell us why. If they want us to have the 666 mark, they must tell us why.”
Mogoeng said he acknowledged that “not all vaccines advance that agenda”.
But Judges Matter campaign coordinator Alison Tilley said judges should speak primarily through their judgments, as the code of conduct reflects.
She said: 
“There is a reason for that. They know the law but are not experts in other areas. Every time [the] CJ (chief justice) does this, he chips away at the respect people have for the judiciary. It’s not the praying as such – of course he can pray – but the controversial contexts.”
However, Pool said he did not view Mogoeng’s comments as ones that were “crossing the line” and added that the chief justice “always made no bones about the fact that he was very religious and dedicated to his faith. It is what it is”.
“He has made it very clear in the past how he views things and to what extent his faith influences the world around him and his world personally,” Pool added.
Another legal expert, Professor Retselisitsoe Moses Phooko from the University of Johannesburg, weighed in on the matter, saying the judge had a right to pray in whatever manner he deemed fit. He said everyone in South Africa had the right to freedom of expression, including the right to practise freedom of religion.
Phooko, however, added one should be “very cautious”, especially when occupying an office such as that of chief justice.
He said one needed to be responsible, “whether you are praying or exercising that freedom of expression when you’re dealing with such a global crisis and [especially] something that the global community is still struggling to identify a cure [for]”.
‘Undermining medical science’
Meanwhile, human rights organisation #Africa4Palestine slammed Mogoeng’s comments, saying it intended to lay a complaint with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), News24 reported. 
In a statement issued on Friday #Africa4Palestine said: “We believe that the chief justice’s latest comments undermined medical science and South Africa’s position on the distribution of vaccines.
It said by terming certain vaccines as ‘666” or the “devil’s vaccines”, [Mogoeng] was undermining not only medical science, but also contradicting the government’s position on vaccines.
“We are confident that such outlandish fanatic speech and denial of medical science during a pandemic is a violation the JSC’s code of conduct, which explicitly urges judges to refrain from such controversies.”
The organisation added: 
“While we acknowledge Justice Mogoeng’s previous judgments and the important role that he has played in our judiciary, we are of the firm opinion that his position asks of him to uphold international law, respect medical science, [and] not interfere in South Africa’s national and international relations as well as health policies.”
The organisation previously laid a complaint with the JSC against Mogoeng, following his utterances in connection with Israel. JSC spokesperson Sello Chiloane told News24 that the complaint was still with the judicial conduct committee.