Protector candidate Desai peppered

Cape Town. 11.08.16. Judge Serajien Desai, candidate for the position of Public Protector of SA, grilled by the panel consisting of MP's from various political parties during the interview held at the Old Assembly in Parliament. Picture Ian Landsberg

Cape Town. 11.08.16. Judge Serajien Desai, candidate for the position of Public Protector of SA, grilled by the panel consisting of MP's from various political parties during the interview held at the Old Assembly in Parliament. Picture Ian Landsberg

Published Aug 11, 2016

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WESTERN Cape High Court Judge Siraj Desai began his bid to become the next 
public protector by stressing his Struggle credentials during his interview yesterday.

“I have been an activist for almost four decades,” he said, before describing his childhood in District Six and how it shaped his world view.

“I was in Standard 7 when District Six was declared a white area. I saw the disintegration of the community, which impacted on my entire life,” said Judge Desai.

He said once he completed high school, being Indian prevented him from continuing his studies in the Western Cape. While this forced him to attend university in Durban, it resulted in him meeting Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko, who influenced his views.

Judge Desai, who is viewed by opposition parties as the ruling ANC's favoured candidate to take over from Thuli Madonsela, said were he to be chosen, he would view it as his task to turn the Office of the Public Protector into a “pillar of democracy”.

MPs from the DA proceeded to pepper Judge Desai with questions about his poor health, allegations of sexual assault brought against him in India in 2004, and reports of frequent clashes with peers in the legal profession.

The DA’s Werner Horn suggested that Judge Desai changed his account of events in Mumbai, which led to the complaint to the Indian police that was later withdrawn, and had therefore, in at least one version, “lied”.

Judge Desai countered that a statement leaked to the press by Indian police had been wrongly attributed to him.

“It is an absolute lie to suggest that I changed my version. I was acting on legal advice right from the beginning… Any criticism of me on that Mumbai incident, is based on speculation.”

In response to the DA’s questions about arguments with colleagues, including Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe and Judge John Foxcroft, Judge Desai said: “I have never been a popular judge.”

Turning to his tearoom spat with Judge Foxcroft, who sent cleric and UDF luminary Allan Boesak to prison for fraud, Judge Desai said he had silently listened how several white judges congratulated Judge Foxcroft after the 
sentence.

He said Judge Foxcroft then remarked to him, who had several times defended Boesak when he was targeted by the apartheid regime over his political activism: “Your former client is a very arrogant man.”

At this, Judge Desai said he became angry and told Judge Foxcroft the real problem was the “arrogance of the white middle class”.

DA MP Phumzile van Damme asked Judge Desai whether his health problems would not hamper his ability to head the Chapter Nine 
institution.

Judge Desai quipped that he was a socialist and, therefore, determined to die “with my boots on”.

He said he had fully recovered from leukaemia and though he had diabetes and shingles, his doctor had told him his health should not be a problem.

He is one of 14 candidates who were interviewed yesterday by the parliamentary ad hoc committee that must nominate a successor to Madonsela, for approval by the National Assembly.

Madonsela found herself on a collision course with the ANC as she pursued investigations against government departments, ministers and most notably President Jacob Zuma. His reluctance and that of Communications Minister Faith Muthambi to heed her findings, led to rulings in the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court.

Judge Desai ventured that the Concourt’s pronouncement in the Nkandla case had strengthened the Office of the Public Protector's standing.

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