South Africa

News24.com | 'You are nothing but a political activist' - Malema tells ConCourt judge candidate Dhaya Pillay

Member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) Julius Malema accused one of the Constituional Court judge candidates, Dhaya Pillay, of being "nothing but a political activist". 

Malema said: "Judge, I am going to argue in a closed session that you are nothing but a political activists. You are no judge, and you deserve no high office. If anything, you are also factional and belong to Pravin's [Gordhan's] faction and you are pursuing factional battles using the bench." 

Malema rebuked Pillay for quoting an ANC Morogoro consultative conference in 1969, during one of her judgments.

He said Pillay knew it would be inappropriate to quote an ANC conference document in her judgment, so she "deliberately omitted the ANC, so that people wouldn't know that a judge of a neutral court quotes a political party gathering documents in her own judgment, yet we must still perceive you to be a neutral and objective judge who is not biased".

Minister Ronald Lamola asked if it was the first time an ANC policy document or speech was quoted by the courts in delivering its ruling. He also said he remembered a judgment where the court quoted the 'ready to govern' document of the ANC with regard to an intention of establishing a Chapter 9 institution. 

Pillay said there was no rule of law that says one can't quote from a particular document.

Pillay, who is vying for a position  on the country's highest court, faced a grilling from the JSC on whether she had relationships with Gordhan and the ANC's Derek Hanekom.

Pillay admitted she was friends with Gordhan, and has known him for many years, but denied a friendship with Hanekom.

Asked by Malema if her relationship with Gordhan enhances the image of the judiciary, Pillay said: "Unfortunately, it's not a relationship I can dissociate myself with for the simple reason that he has been my friend for a long time.

"The fact that he has been in government has never interfered with my adjudicative work, and he and I recognise boundaries. Politicians recognise boundaries with the judiciary."

READ | Judge Dhaya Pillay to serve as acting justice in ConCourt

Malema then hit back, saying Pillay was a friend of Gordhan, and claimed Gordhan had allegedly 'captured the judiciary'. He pushed her again on whether being the friend of a politician boosts the judiciary's image.

Pillay said her association with Gordhan had never impacted on her work for the past 21 years and it will not do so going forward. She said she had ruled against the Treasury and SARS before, and it had never been a problem.

Cape Town - Public Enterprises

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Jeffrey Abrahams

"Friendship doesn't mean I am having breakfast, lunch and supper with Mr Gordhan," she said.

Malema asked Pillay about having lunch with former president Jacob Zuma before she dealt with cases involving him. Responding, Pillay said that if she did not mention she had lunch with Zuma, very few people would know about it.

She also said she knew the former president from when he was in exile.

Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng also raised a question over her friendship with Gordhan. He said during an earlier round of the interviews, Gordhan asked for a meeting with him.

"He came, I took a break from JSC matters, and I really don't know what the purpose of the meeting was. I don't have a clear recollection, I think it was something to do with the Tax Ombuds. But what stuck to my mind and left me puzzled was the following, he asked me a question and said 'How did my friend Dhaya Pillay perform?'

"This thing has stayed with me and it got renewed as ... Honourable Malema engaged you. Why did the honourable minister make an effort to meet me? We are not friends. I don't know him from anyone except television. Why did he make the trip and seek an audience with me?"

Earlier on, one of the commissioners read three letters, which objected to Pillay being appointed to the highest court.

One of the objectors complained about Pillay's judgments against Zuma.

Dealt

However, Pillay said there was no conflict of interest in all the cases she dealt with involving the former president.

One of the cases she dealt with was a ruling which favoured Hanekom in a defamation case brought against Zuma.

She also made headlines after issuing a warrant of arrest for the former president after he failed to appear in court. 

At the time, the judge was not satisfied with the "sick note" Zuma's lawyers produced as evidence of his alleged ill-health.

On Tuesday, she said that, when she dealt with Zuma's criminal prosecution matter, she was told it would be a postponement, but the former president was not in attendance.

Fails

"A normal thing a judge does when a litigant fails to appear in court is to issue a warrant. The judge has the discretion to stay the warrant and that is exactly what I did. I stayed the warrant.

"There is no conflict of interest in those matters and the current matter serving before the Constitutional Court."

Pillay is currently acting in the Constitutional Court.

She joined the apex court from her KwaZulu-Natal High Court position, where she has served since 2009.

She has also served for an acting term in the Supreme Court of Appeal and was a judge in the Labour Court.

She joined the Free State Centre for Human Rights as Extraordinary Professor in December 2020. 

Additional reporting by Tebogo Monama

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