News24 – SAPA
Cape Town – Almost half of the judiciary in the Cape High Court have signed a statement saying they believe their judge president, John Hlophe, is the victim of a campaign by “unknown forces”. The move comes amid a furore over allegations that Hlophe made racist comments to a white lawyer, and that he belittled one of his white judges. Judge Siraj Desai, who drafted the statement in consultation with some of his colleagues, said he announced the initiative at the regular judges’ meeting on Friday morning, and by Friday afternoon 13 of the 28 full and acting judges had signed. The 13 included both black and white judges. Six had declined to add their signatures – among them Wilfred Thring, the judge whom Hlophe allegedly belittled – and the rest had yet to make their decision known.
The statement said the signatories noted with alarm and dismay the continuing attack on Hlophe’s integrity “by members of the advocacy and other similar sources”. “Without commenting on the merits of the dispute, we believe that the campaign is being promoted by unknown forces and is patently calculated to impede the transformation agenda of the judiciary; an agenda which we unqualifiedly support.” This was born out by the fact that the attacks came on the ve of a round of hearings of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). “The attacks constitute a serious threat to our judicial independence, undermine our integrity and place in jeopardy the proper administration of justice.” Desai told Sapa that some members of the Cape Bar Council appeared to be among those behind the campaign against Hlophe. “I don’t take the commitment of the Cape Bar Council to transformation seriously: in ten-and-a-half years the CBD has not nominated a single person of colour to the Bench,” he said, echoing comments he made earlier this week at a conference on transofrmation in the judiciary.
The council has referred the racism allegation against Hlophe to Chief Justice Pius Lange. The matter is expected to be discussed on Sunday at a heads of courts meeting in Cape Town called by Langa ahead of next week’s JSC hearings. Hlophe is alleged to have called attorney Josua Greeff a “piece of white shit” in the presence of advocate and former acting judge Dirk Uijs, acting judge Tandaswa Ndita and a prosecutor. The incident came in a meeting Hlophe called over the lawyers’ plan to appeal a murder conviction by Ndita. Hlophe was also alleged this week to have said he was giving an Afrikaans language rights case to Thring because he would “fuck it up”, allowing the matter to be dealth with by a full bench of the court of appeal. Hlophe has denied both claims.