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.