Public Protector hopeful Desai grilled over Mumbai rape allegations

Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai. (File, 24.com pool)
Western Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai. (File, 24.com pool)

Cape Town – An agitated Judge Serajudien Desai apologised to a DA MP on Thursday, during his interview for the post of Public Protector.

The judge was questioned about a rape accusation he had faced, the potential of bias, and whether his “hot head” would interfere with his duties, should he be appointed.

Barely five minutes into the question and answer session in Parliament, the judge and DA MP Werner Horn were engaged in a back and forth argument about the rape case.

In 2004, South African Aids activist Salome Isaacs claimed he raped her in his hotel room while they were attending the World Social Forum in Mumbai. She withdrew the charge and a Mumbai court found the evidence was baseless.

Desai said he was neither acquitted nor convicted and the charge was withdrawn under oath.

“I have never been a popular judge with the judges of the old order. And a judge came up with the story that I lied. That was a lie. I never changed my version,” he said.

He said the story had lingered on, long after it had been dealt with.

“Any criticism of me regarding the Mumbai incident, if it is based on facts, then I agree with you. But what you are saying is based on speculation and inferences from what appeared in the press,” he told Horn.

The DA’s Phumzile Van Damme asked him if he had a cool head, referring to public skirmishes he had been part of.

Desai said he had lived a colourful life. He mentioned his feud with Judge John Foxcroft, who found struggle hero Allan Boesak guilty of theft and fraud in March 1999.

Desai had represented Boesak.

“When he sentenced him, we were in the tea room and every single white judge who walked in said ‘well done John’. Each time he would turn to me and tell me ‘your former client is an arrogant man’. So eventually I had enough and I said to him ‘what concerns me is not the arrogance of a former client, what concerns me is the arrogance of the white middle class’,” he told the committee.

He asked Van Damme if she had a problem with that comment.

EFF Chief Whip Floyd Shivambu asked Desai if he could handle the pressure of the job, if he could not handle questions from MPs. He said he had expected more from a judge than a back and forth with MPs.

“I agree, I should not have reacted as such. But if you are facing this accusation day in and day out and you know there is nothing you can do about it, then you do react. I must apologise,” he said. 

Asked about his health, he said he had had cancer more than five years ago, and was recently diagnosed with shingles. Other than that, he was a normal 65-year-old, he said.

 

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