Johannesburg - He is the judge who brought much-needed light moments to the Constitutional Court while work was done on serious landmark judgments.
A blind judge who objected to the use of the word “such” in judgments, and who loved operatic renditions of Happy Birthday at lunchtimes on the days that Concourt judges celebrated their birthdays.
On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court bade farewell to Justice Zak Yacoob on his retirement.
During a seating of the court in his honour, many spoke of him as a skilled lawyer who never let his blindness hold him back.
The farewell was attended by, among others, Justice Yacoob’s family, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, former chief justice Pius Langa, renowned advocate George Bizos, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and many in the legal fraternity.
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng described Justice Yacoob as one of South Africa’s treasured blessings, as he defied all odds, stereotypes and prejudices to complete his studies and develop himself as one of the world’s finest legal brains.
He said Justice Yacoob was an inspiration and a role model to any South African child living in abject poverty, or those with physical challenges, to believe they had a place at the top of their careers.
It was in recognition of his extraordinary diligence, intellectual prowess and passion for political freedom that he was roped into the legal team that worked on the constitution, Justice Mogoeng said.
Looking at Justice Yacoob’s wife, Anu, the chief justice thanked her for sharing him with his Concourt colleagues and the country.
Advocate Gcina Malindi, who represented President Jacob Zuma during the Spear hearing, said Justice Yacoob represented many victims of apartheid laws and policies, and continued to champion social change.
A friend of more than 40 years, Krish Govender - a co-president of the Association of Law Societies - said Justice Yacoob was different things to different people. Some thought he was a racist, others that he was rough and insensitive, yet he was none of those things.
“He does not suffer fools gladly but also does not patronise people. When he fought with you, he fought fairly. He was a compassionate and committed lawyer who took people’s battles and fought them to the bitter end,” Govender said.
Justice Yacoob said his biggest milestone was marrying his wife. He was also grateful to his community, which built the school he attended. “I wonder what would’ve happened had the community started the school 10 years later. I’d probably have not gone to school.”