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Justice Moseneke: A Legacy of Fairness, Independence, and Transformation

Tinashe Mupasiri



From upholding the intricacies of land rights to safeguarding political accountability, Justice Dikgang Ernest Moseneke’s career on the South African Constitutional Court has an indelible mark on the nation’s legal landscape. Revered for his “towering legal mind” and unwavering commitment to justice, Moseneke’s landmark judgments tackled some of the most pressing issues in post-apartheid South Africa.

His tenure, spanning from 2001 to 2016, saw Moseneke grapple with complex legal and societal challenges. In S v Thebus, he affirmed the principle of common purpose, a cornerstone in holding accountable those involved in group crimes. He navigated the grey area between public and private law in Steenkamp NO v Provincial Tender Board, setting a precedent for seeking remedies. Yet, in Masetlha v President, he upheld the then-President’s right to dismiss the head of the National Intelligence Agency without granting procedural fairness.

Moseneke’s independence shone brightly in cases like National Treasury v Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance, where he denied an injunction against Gauteng’s controversial e-tolls, despite widespread public opposition. And when parliamentary rules threatened to obstruct political scrutiny, he sided with then-opposition leader Lindiwe Mazibuko in Mazibuko v Sisulu, declaring those rules unconstitutional and paving the way for a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma.

Beyond individual cases, Moseneke’s legacy is deeply intertwined with South Africa’s ongoing transformation. His two leading judgments on affirmative action, Minister of Finance v Van Heerden and SAPS v Barnard, championed equal opportunities while acknowledging the complexities of past injustices. He cemented his understanding of property rights in landmark cases like Shoprite v MEC, Eastern Cape, offering nuanced interpretations of the Constitution’s protections.

Justice Moseneke’s unwavering pursuit of fairness, his independent spirit, and his dedication to social justice continue to echo through the halls of the Constitutional Court. His judgments serve as guiding stars for future generations, illuminating the path toward a more just and equitable South Africa.

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