Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on Wednesday called for “brutal introspection” in South Africa’s public discourse, saying that this would propel narratives past mere criticism of challenges to solution seeking.
He was speaking at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Westville campus in Durban, where he was officially being installed as chancellor.
Delivering his speech before the university’s academia, members of the judiciary, politicians and others, Mogoeng made a call to action, asking South Africans to not simply criticise but to find solutions and help the country reach its constitutional objectives.
In a wide-ranging off the cuff address, Mogoeng touched on the need for better leadership training, the need to deliver education to all South Africans and for fairness in decision-making.
“Our constitutional project as you know is building a united South Africa. There is a South Africa committed to the improvement of the quality of life of every citizen. The challenge is how do we go about doing that.
"There are schools of thought that say where we should go but none of them serve the purpose of helping us achieving the imperatives in the preamble to the constitution.”
He said the narratives being peddled in public discourse can “only serve as further entrenching divisions in South Africa”. The “suspicious nature” of discourse in South Africa had also led to people being viewed with suspicion even when their views were consistent with the constitution, he said.
“Whatever we do let us do our utmost best to hinge it on our constitutional ambitions,” he said.
Mogoeng touched on corruption as an example of South Africans only seeing what they wanted to.
Corruption in the public sector was widely publicised, he said, and while it should be acted upon, there was a failure in public discourse to treat private sector corruption with the same vigour.
“As long we don’t accept that there is wrong doing in both the private and public sector we will never be able to reach our constitutional project. Maybe we should mark a new beginning in South Africa – let us stop exchanging accusations and identity problems where they are found and speak against them and find a solution together. It is time for a brutal introspection.”
Mogoeng was appointed to the position of chancellor on 7 August. The post – having its roots in the Roman Empire - has become a largely ceremonial one, with its primary role being the conferring of degrees at graduation ceremonies and offering advice to university leadership.
The previous chancellor was Dr Zweli Mkhize, former premier of KwaZulu-Natal. Mkhize is the Treasurer of the African National Congress. Shortly after robing Mogoeng, Mkhize told the chief justice: “You can take the hot seat now”.