Malema grills judge Pillay both professionally and personally

INSIDE THIS WEEK'S JSC INTERVIEWS | Judge says the dangerous noise surrounding her is the work of troublemakers, detractors to democracy

15 April 2021 - 19:22
By Tania Broughton
'We are both activists from Durban and it’s hard not to know him,' said judge Dhaya Pillay of her relationship with Pravin Gordhan.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu KINDRED SPIRITS 'We are both activists from Durban and it’s hard not to know him,' said judge Dhaya Pillay of her relationship with Pravin Gordhan.

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) this week interviewed candidates for judicial appointment, including nine for two vacancies on the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest court. Below is a recap of some of our coverage.

KwaZulu-Natal judge Dhaya Pillay found herself defending her private financial investments, her “friendship” with Pravin Gordhan and a lunch she had with former president Jacob Zuma at his homestead in Nkandla during her interview with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) on Tuesday.

The veteran judge, who has served on the labour court, acted in the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and, most recently, the Constitutional Court, is vying for one of two positions on the apex court.

But while she started off impressively, revealing how she helped draft the constitution, the country’s post-democracy labour laws and sits on the Electoral Commission of SA (IEC), she found herself questioned about her personal financial affairs and the fact that she is a director of two “investment” vehicles, which she declared on the judges’ assets register.

Then she faced questions about her presiding over the matter in which former ANC MP Derek Hanekom successfully sued Zuma for defamation and Zuma’s criminal case in Pietermaritzburg, when she issued a stayed warrant for his arrest for his non-appearance.

She sought to explain: as the senior judge on duty on those days, both Zuma matters had been foisted on her.

“With the Hanekom matter, there was no conflict of interest, but I had recently been hosted (as a member of the IEC) at his home for lunch. It seemed discourteous. But it was a common law dispute of defamation. It was all in the pleadings and I had to apply the law.”

She said in the criminal matter she also happened to be the senior judge in court.

“I was told it would probably be adjourned. But then he was not in attendance. The normal thing a judge does is to issue a warrant and stay it, which is what I did,” she said, explaining that the medical certificate handed in had been altered.

Asked if she was friends with Hanekom and public enterprises minister Gordhan, as alleged by members of the public in opposition to her appointment, she said: “I saw Hanekom in my courtroom. I am not friends with him. Mr Gordhan I have known for a long time. We are both activists from Durban and it’s hard not to know him.”

She referred to postings on social media as “dangerous noise” and said if there were allegations, they needed to be properly tested.

“There are troublemakers, detractors to our democracy,” she said.

But EFF leader Julius Malema was having none of it.

Regarding her investments, he said the banks had become “too powerful” and in litigation, often won their cases against poor people.

“If judges have shares in banks, how does that enhance the good image of the judiciary?”

She countered: “The fact that I have shares in banks does not even cross my mind. The legal practitioners will tell you how I lambaste the banks. Standard Bank comes to the high court with claims for R10,000 repeatedly. It doesn’t cut it in my court. The banks really don’t think I am their friend.”

Malema then asked if there was a picture of her with Hanekom and Gordhan, “who has captured the judiciary”, circulating on social media.

She said there could not be one of Hanekom, but it was possible there was one of her and Gordhan because “we are friends”.

“My association with him has never affected my work and will not going forward. I have made judgments against the Treasury and against Sars, and it has never been a problem.”

Malema said: “I am going to argue in the closed session that you are nothing but a political activist and you don’t deserve any high office. You are factional and you are part of the Gordhan faction.”

Earlier, Pillay spoke of the global challenges of a “constitutional crisis” and constitutional “rot” and backsliding.

She said a crisis occurs when public office bearers pronounce they are not bound by the constitution and refuse to obey court orders.

“Thankfully, our judiciary and the IEC are bulwarks. We are no way near to constitutional rot. That is where institutions are dysfunctional and there is no public trust.

“But it shows how important the judiciary is.”

* Pillay did not receive a recommendation.