Quote of the week

Universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll is one of the foundational values of our entire constitutional order. The achievement of the franchise has historically been important both for the acquisition of the rights of full and effective citizenship by all South Africans regardless of race, and for the accomplishment of an all-embracing nationhood. The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity.

Justice Albie Sachs
August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3
11 June 2007

Oasis, Hlophe must rue defamation action

Interesting to note that Oasis Asset Management company is now punting itself in half page advertisements in the Sunday Times. The company obviously needs to try and repair the damage caused by its aborted defamation case against Judge Siraj Desai.

The case might well go down as one of the most spectacular own goals in the legal history of South Africa. Before Oasis dropped its case, it transpired that it had paid Judge President John Hlophe almost R500 000 in “out of pocket” expenses. Judge President Hlophe first denied Oasis permission to sue judge Desai and then changed his mind. This happened while he was receiving money from Oasis, which could lead a suspicious person to suspect that Oasis was trying to bribe Justice Hlophe so that he would give permission for the action.

Hlophe was first left off the hook by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) but because of the defamation suit new evidence has now emerged that casts new suspicions on Hlophe, as The Weekender reports:

Among the new documents that members [of the JSC] have been given as a result of the court action that was ultimately withdrawn by Oasis last month, is evidence of the fact that Hlophe was a trustee of Oasis only from November 2000. This raises a number of questions about the permission he claims to have been given to become involved with the company.

According to Hlophe, he was authorised to take the job by former justice minister Dullah Omar. However, Omar had quit as minister at least 18 months before Hlophe took on the position.

On what basis, the commission members will want to know, would Omar have been able to grant permission to a judge to take on what amounts to additional outside employment, at a time when Omar was no longer the justice minister and was therefore unable to give such permission?

This means that if the JSC vigorously pursues this matter, Judge Hlophe may well be impeached, in which case the image of Oasis would also be irrevocably tarnished. Oasis is already reeling from the bad publicity – which is why they dropped the case against Judge Desai. It has clearly realized that going through with the case would have been disastrous.

In another development Carmel Ricard hints in her column in The Weekender that the court files in the case have been removed in an untoward way. When she looked for the files there was an “upliftment note” instead of all the juicy files. She dares not point a finger at Judge Hlophe, or does she? Judge for yourself:

This “upliftment note” says that the file was removed at the end of March. But, as I expected, a phone call to the highly respected firm concerned indicated the file was borrowed when they first became involved, in order to make copies of everything, and it was then returned.

Some court staff told a journalist colleague that the file had been called for by Hlophe himself. But this cannot be so. It would have been improper and Hlophe, as a highly respected judge, would not have done anything unless completely kosher.

Because Hlophe was personally implicated in the case, neither he nor any judge of his division would have heard the case or have had anything to do with it. Instead it was referred to another judge-president to send an “outside” judge to hear the matter. Judge-President Bernard Ngoepe organised that Judge Frans Malan would deal with it; the court file relating to the case was thus under his control and not that of any Cape Town judge, least of all the Cape judge-president.

Curiouser and curiouser is what I say. The more evidence emerge, the more I feel that Oasis and Judge Hlophe deserve each other…

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