Cape Town - Termed the people’s judge by his colleagues and friends, Judge Siraj Desai will leave behind big shoes to fill.
Not only did he serve with a passion for the law but also with compassion for the people, said director of De Klerk Van Gend attorneys Igshaan Higgins.
“He is the epitome of what would term as a judicial activist.
“He never confined himself and never interpreted the law in a narrow manner but in the broadest possible way in order to reach social justice.
“He was a mentor of what one would call a classroom of activists in the darkest days of apartheid,” said Higgins.
Higgins who appeared before him as an attorney and said it was an absolute pleasure to work with him.
“I don’t think he is finished with the community, he still has a lot to offer.
“He certainly won’t retire from the community.”
Member of the Western Cape Legislature Muhammed Khalid Sayed said Desai was somebody who regardless of being a judge, fully engaged in the plight of the most vulnerable.
This applied in the criminal cases as well where he would look at building a better society with moral lessons, said Sayed.
“He was a social activist outside the courtroom as well. He was the voice of the conscious.
“He would call people to order, particularly leaders.
“He played a key role in shaping the quality of young leaders,” said Sayed.
He said there were mixed feelings that came with the judge hanging up his robe.
“It is sad because he was the people’s judge.
“It is positive because it creates a positive environment for the younger generation to become judges of conscious, the void must be filled.
“I am hoping he continues his good work for South Africa,” said Sayed.
Desai’s registrar, Rhodha Patel, said she knew him as a judge who did not just pay lip-service to Ubuntu but imbued it.
“It’s been a real privilege to work for him,” said Patel.
Father Michael Weeder of St Georges’s Cathedral said he often interacted informally with Desai as they went about their respective business in the city.
“The last time we met was on the occasion of the memorial service of Anwar Nagia, a friend of the judge.
“I was struck by the thoughtful and loving recall of the legacy of his friend and their shared path of struggle to humanise our city and our world.
“A sign of wisdom is humour and Judge Desai has that in abundance,” said Weeder.
Senior state advocate Susan Galloway said he was always a man to promote peace, even when arguments in court became quite heated.
“I have never known Judge Desai to be angry or irritated.
“And especially not when he was on the bench.
“His tactic to point out to counsel that they are on the wrong path, so to speak, would be a gentle reminder with a pointed question or remark which steers in the right direction.
“Even when it was known that he is not healthy, his devotion to the law and justice always still came first,” said Galloway.
She said it was well-known that Desai was always open to introducing others to the law profession.
“He would often have students or other interested parties in court after having met them in chambers to welcome them and to enlighten them about South African law.
“It has been a privilege and an honour to appear before Desai.
“His presence on the bench will be sorely missed,” said Galloway.
Ex-principal at Trafalgar High School Nadeem Hendricks, where Desai went to school, but not his principal at the time, said he was always for the community and when he became a judge that did not change.
“He is very respected in the community, his opinion is very valued.
“He is a judge that is not afraid he has no fear or favour.
“Even if you were his friend if you were wrong, you were wrong,” said Hendricks.
Socially, Desai was known for his dry sense of humour, Hendricks recalled while describing him.
“He kept his head right and made his decisions for justice and the right reasons.
“He is extremely relaxed, humble and extremely jovial,” said Hendricks.