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Mark Gevisser

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Zuma’s Chief Justice Choice Stokes Fears of a Social Conservative Backlash – and a Lapdog Judiciary

The Guardian published my opinion piece on Mogoeng Mogoeng today:

South Africa is one of Africa’s most liberal outposts, while Kenya has a reputation for conservatism. But no society is static, least of all in Africa. And the recent appointment processes around new chief justices in these two regional powerhouses demonstrates just how important – and potentially vulnerable – the democratic rule of law is, in places that have long histories of human rights abuse, and where inevitable social change threatens age-old customs.

In May Willy Mutunga was nominated as Kenya’s first chief justice under its promising new constitution. Mutunga wears an earring and, as a Ford Foundation executive, funded gay organisations in the country. And yet, despite intense opposition from the churches he was confirmed in the post, in what was a watershed moment for Kenyan society. Mutunga was asked publicly if he was gay; he replied that he was not, but stated unequivocal support for the rights of those who were. Most Kenyans might not feel the same way. Still, Mutunga was clearly the best man for the job, given his independence, his integrity and his stance against state corruption.