essa moosa

Obituary: Remembering Judge Essa Moosa

According to the International Peace and Reconciliation Initiative‚ Moosa was born in District 6 on February 8 1936. He qualified as an attorney on June 1 1962. He specialised in human rights law for nearly 40 years.  He was a founding and executive member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and chaired its Human Rights Committee.

In 1998 he was appointed by President Nelson Mandela to the High Court of the Supreme Court‚ based in Cape Town‚ where he remained until he retired in 2011. He died at 11:30am on Sunday.

essa moosa

There is one particular anecdote repeated by friends of the late Judge Essa Moosa. It takes place in a jail cell, packed with clergy and activists who had been detained by apartheid security forces for marching through the Streets of Cape Town. The year is 1989. Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who is said to share this anecdote more than most – turns to the officer in charge and says: “I want our lawyer.” Normally, this would necessitate a phone call. But, instead, a soft voice from the back of the cell floats over the excited hubbub: “I am also here.”

This was the modus operandi of Moosa, who passed away on Sunday after a brief fight with cancer. Known alternatively as the “struggle lawyer” or the “people’s attorney,” the former High Court judge spent many days in prison cells. In the first half of his six-decade career, this was as an unwilling guest of the apartheid regime, or to give legal assistance to its victims. In the second half of that career, it was to help give equal access to justice for people who otherwise did not have the wealth to get fair representation.

The story of this unobtrusive but hugely influential man is interwoven into that of the anti-apartheid struggle. A child of immigrants from India, he started his law degree at the University of Cape Town while working as a bookkeeper. At UCT, he refused to apply for a permit, a requirement for non-white students, and studied illegally. He then tried to take the government to court, when it kicked non-white people out of District Six, his home.

Read the full obituary here

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