Singapore 'a beacon of hope for South Africa', says S. African Chief Justice

South Africa Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng praised Singapore's achievements and progress despite its small size.
South Africa Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng praised Singapore's achievements and progress despite its small size.PHOTO: SINGAPORE ACADEMY OF LAW

Important lessons to be learnt from a small country, says S. African CJ

South Africa's Chief Justice has lauded Singapore as a beacon of hope for his country, citing its visionary leadership, abhorrence of corruption and making the most of the least.

Delivering the 21st Singapore Academy of Law lecture on Tuesday Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng noted that both countries had visionary founding leaders.

But unlike Mr Nelson Mandela, Singapore's Mr Lee Kuan Yew lives to see the vision for his country fully realised.

"Sadly, for South Africa, by the time our founding father had passed on, much still had to be done," he said. He dedicated the lecture to Mr Mandela, who was also a lawyer, like Mr Lee.

Among the audience at Tuesday's talk at the Supreme Court Auditorium was Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Attorney-General V.K. Rajah, retired chief justice Chan Sek Keong and , Ms Hazel Ngubeni, South Africa's High Commissioner to Singapore.

His talk, "Twenty years of the South African Constitution - Origins, Aspirations and Delivery", traced his country's progress in the 20 years since it attained democracy.

Stressing the significant role of the courts in ensuring that the rule of law is observed, CJ Mogoeng praised Singapore's achievements. Unlike South Africa, Singapore is a small country without mineral resources and "yet the economic muscle of Singapore cannot be compared to that of South Africa".

He added: "As the rand continues to slide, the dollar of Singapore seems to be gaining more and more strength."

The key question to ask of Singapore is: How did you get it right?

"If a country that was 'rejected' could become a force to be reckoned with that you have turned out to be, I think a little bit of brutal introspection will take South Africa far," he said.

South Africa has a "vibrant democracy" and has made great strides in the rule of law, said CJ Mogoeng, citing advances in educational opportunities, judicial appointments and land ownership, among other areas.

And one thing that the country did right was to abolish the death penalty at a time when about 95 per cent of the people wanted the penalty to be retained.

"Those of us who knew better thought it was a good move because nobody can tell me with certainty that judges never make mistakes," he said.

There had been a few incidents in South Africa where, after those convicted had been put on death row, the real culprits stepped forward and admitted guilt.

The "safest route" thus was to abolish the death penalty, given the kind of "skewed" justice that applied then.

"It was a brave move which was facilitated by the supremacy of the Constitution as the law," he said, noting that there is still the death penalty here.

"If the death penalty is still retained in this country, don't understand me to be criticising the laws in this country, not at all."

vijayan@sph.com.sg