Home Articles #ChampionPeople: Retired Judge Siraj Desai on his early life, career and thoughts on the South African judiciary

#ChampionPeople: Retired Judge Siraj Desai on his early life, career and thoughts on the South African judiciary

by Zahid Jadwat

Often referred to as ‘the people’s judge’, retired Judge Siraj Desai is well-known for his sterling work in the judicial system over the years. From his birth in Cape Town to his appointment as a Judge in the Western Cape High Court, Judge Desai shared his story with Salaamedia.

 

 

Born and raised in Cape Town, Desai said that his position as a Judge in the High Court seemed unlikely when he was a young boy: “I have the most unlikely origin. I grew up in the back streets of Salt River. In the circumstances that we grew up, to become a judge is the most unlikely consequence.”

 
 
For him, the moment of political awakening occurred when his fellow classmates were “disappearing” as they were moved to the Cape Flats in 1966. “The school children in my class started disappearing. They started moving to the Cape Flats and it was [an] enormously politically awakening moment,” he said.
 
 
Following a career of more than four decades as a judge, Desai retired late last year at the age of 69. At the time of his retirement, many of his colleagues and acquaintances in the field had reflected on his remarkable career. “I was first person of color from Cape Town appointed to the bench and that drew enormous amount of of attention and support from the community,” he said. 
 
 
Desai banished people like triple murderer Henri Van Breda behind bars for three life terms and won victories for the poor. Prior to this, he served as an activist lawyer representing people accused of apartheid crimes, many of whom could not afford legal services.
 
 
However, Desai also lamented over the current situation of the South African judiciary. He said: “This is the weakest moment in which the judiciary finds itself.”
 
 
Watch the full interview here:
https://youtu.be/V1rS1XNkgWQ

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