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Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

THE STAL­WART: SIRAJ DE­SAI The for­mer hu­man rights lawyer sur­vived be­ing ac­cused of rape dur­ing the World So­cial Fo­rum in Mum­bai by HIV/Aids ac­tivist Salome Isaacs in 2004, when an In­dian judge ab­solved him, say­ing it was a case of con­sen­sual sex. But that wasn’t the end for Judge Siraj De­sai.

Three years later, Gaut­eng PAC chair­man Thami ka Plaatjie claimed De­sai did not have the “im­pec­ca­ble char­ac­ter” needed in a judge. Ka Plaatjie raised three is­sues in a com­plaint to Ju­di­cial Ser­vice Com­mis­sion chair­man, Chief Jus­tice Pius Langa. The first re­lated to De­sai ini­tially hav­ing de­nied the in­ci­dent with Isaacs; the sec­ond to an al­leged row in the Cape High Court judges’ com­mon room when De­sai re­port­edly con­fronted Judge John Fox­croft over at­tacks on Judge Pres­i­dent John Hlophe in the me­dia; and the third to a defama­tion suit brought by the Oa­sis prop­erty com­pany against De­sai for re­marks he al­legedly made at a pub­lic meet­ing.

But none of this par­tic­u­larly ham­pered De­sai’s ca­reer as a West­ern Cape High Court judge. Ap­pointed to the Bench in 1995, he was al­ready well-known in po­lit­i­cal cir­cles for rep­re­sent­ing ac­tivists and then ap­pear­ing as le­gal coun­sel for Umkhonto we Sizwe in the high-pro­file Mot­suenyane Com­mis­sion, es­tab­lished to look into hu­man rights abuses in ANC camps in south­ern Africa.

After that, he took on other spot­light po­lit­i­cal cases, in­clud­ing head­ing a com­mis­sion of in­quiry into al­le­ga­tions of spy­ing in the West­ern Cape gov­ern­ment. De­sai an­noyed the DA in those hear­ings, with the party sug­gest­ing he was bi­ased.

Yet the case for which the gen­eral pub­lic may know him best was that of Na­jwa Petersen, South African mu­sic su­per­star Taliep Petersen’s widow. He se­cured her con­vic­tion.

De­sai has more than 20 years on the Bench.

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