Opposition is mounting to a pastor nominated to lead South Africa's judicial system who critics say is an apologist for rapists in a country with the world's highest incidence of sexual assault.
Opponents are also questioning whether Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng can put the country's constitution, one of the most liberal in the world, ahead of the Bible.
And they ask what his stand is on gay rights enshrined in the constitution since he belongs to a church that believes homosexuality is a disease that can be cured.
On Wednesday three women Nobel Laureates joined South African social justice groups urging President Jacob Zuma not to appoint Mogoeng as chief justice.
"Many of his rulings have undermined the severity of the crime of rape and its consequences for victims and invoke dangerous myths about rape that often blame the victims themselves and excuse perpetrators of egregious crimes," said Nobel Peace Prize winners Jody Williams of the United States, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Mairead Maguire of Ireland.
Mogoeng vigorously defended himself last weekend at a hearing on his nomination before the Judicial Services Commission. Critics including groups defending women's and gay rights and social justice as well as three South African bar associations, fellow judges and nine senior U.S. law professors have all sent submissions to the commission.
"The constitution guarantees every South African freedom of religion, belief and opinion. In the exercise of this right, I have fully embraced the Christian faith," he said at the televised hearing. "I did and do so mindful of the fact that our constitution was not meant to benefit Christians to the exclusion of all other people who either belong to other faiths or do not subscribe to any religion at all."
Mogoeng said those who suggest he is "insensitive to gender-based violence" had relied on three cases involving rape against women.
In the cases he was apparently referring to:
__ In 2001 Mogoeng quashed a two-year jail term for a man who tethered his girlfriend to the back of his car and drove the car, dragging her for 50 meters (yards) along a dirt road. Mogoeng said the man had been "provoked" and instead fined him R4,000 ($590).
__ In 2004 Mogoeng reduced the sentence of a man found guilty of raping his eight months' pregnant wife in the presence of another person, arguing the assault was "not serious" and suggesting that sex between a husband and wife could not be considered rape.
__ In 2007 Mogoeng suspended the jail sentence of a man found guilty of throttling and attempting to rape his estranged wife, reasoning he had been "aroused by his wife" because she was "clad in panties and a nightdress," and that he had used "minimum force."
Mogoeng said his critics deliberately ignored his rulings in at least seven other cases involving rape of women in which he imposed or confirmed "substantial periods of imprisonment" ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment.
South Africa's laws mandate a minimum sentence of 10 years for rape.
"Justice Mogoeng has demonstrated that he cannot be relied upon to champion the rights of one half of the population," Sonke (All) Gender Justice Network said Wednesday.
South Africa suffers the highest rate of rape in the world, especially child and baby rape.
Mogoeng, 50, has a master's degree in law from the long-distance University of South Africa and began his career as a Supreme Court prosecutor in 1986. He was made a judge of the Labor Appeal Court in 2000 and judge president of the provincial North West High Court in 2002. Two years ago he was appointed to the Constitutional Court.
Mogoeng is also a pastor of the Winners Chapel International church, which offers to save souls, drive out disease and cure "deviations," including homosexuality, through prayer and counseling.
Mogoeng lost his temper when commissioners at his hearing questioned his part in a case involving a ruling on homosexuality, causing one commissioner to say that his "petulance" raised questions about the suitability of his temperament for the post and another to comment that he had never interviewed "so arrogant" a nominee.
During his two years in the Constitutional Court Mogoeng has made two dissenting judgments that fed speculation he is extremely conservative and perhaps homophobic. Mogoeng denied he is homophobic.
Four social justice groups questioned Mogoeng's reliance on a passage from the Bible to explain to the commission why he would uphold the law.
Quoting from the Book of Romans, Mogoeng said: "Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves."
He told the commission he believes that God wants him to be the chief justice: "I prayed and I got a signal that it was the right thing to do ..."
Zuma is studying the commission's recommendations and is expected to make an announcement soon.