Senior magistrate's bigoted songsheet

Court officer Ashin Singh sows discord among his peers.

A Pietermaritzburg magistrate with a shoot-from the hip attitude who was recently charged with threatening a court reporter (see nose227), has told a retired senior magistrate in his circuit to "go to hell"; that her health issues are the result of "karma"; and that "the views of your lesbian friend" should be ignored.

It might just be the last exchange of words between magistrate Ashin Singh and retired senior magistrate Petronella Joubert who stepped down on 30 November in a feud that has run for well over a decade. They have repeatedly complained about each other to superiors and oversight bodies during that time.

Magistrate Ashin Singh

But it appears Singh's attitude to authority and his ability to drag out a fight, is nothing new, - his antics having once reached the ear of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Joubert is currently involved in a complaint against Singh being heard by the Magistrate's Commission - a matter that has dragged on since August 2017: Joubert and two other magistrates claim that Singh and the local chief magistrate "intimidated and victimised" them.

The latest exchange of words is the result of an email sent by Joubert on 29 November, a day before retiring, which she sent to all magistrates within the circuit. Her email said that, because she was retiring it was necessary that she "respond to Mr Ashin Singh's wild and unfounded allegations before I leave". He had supposedly made the allegations in an email sent to everyone in August 2017. With attachments, Joubert's email outlined a series of complaints made by Singh against Joubert dating as far back as June 2005.

"He stated that there was a finding by a judge that I victimised him. He is lying," she said, going on to give a blow-by-blow account of incidents since 2005, including that Singh had called her a "gender equality affirmative action Senior Magistrate" and and had accused her of being biased towards white magistrates.

From her email it is apparent the two crossed the judicial civility line with regularity, leading to one instance with the respected, now retired, Judge Noel Hurt even commenting: "I am disturbed to note there seems to be background of personal animosity between the senior magistrate who made the request... and the magistrate who made the order.

"I trust that the chief magistrate will have investigated this problem".

Joubert also said Singh wrote in an affidavit dated 13 June 2017 that she was "one of the many white Afrikaners who resigned en masse in 1994 as she refused to work for a black ANC government before 1994".

She then said Singh's professed support for "a black ANC government" was "somewhat doubtful".
In an affidavit of Wendy Watson, Regional Manager of the KwaZuluNatal office of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to which Mr Singh was seconded, she stated: "The perception of the management of the TRC was that he was biased towards the IFP and he in fact offered to give an affidavit to an IFP attorney stating that one of the Human Rights Committee members was an ANC member."

Singh replied: "Good riddance to you... your letter speaks volumes about your pathetic behaviour... you have made about 30 complaints... all dismissed as vexatious and malicious!

"The TRC records speak for themselves... not the views of your lesbian friend Wendy Watson.

"I can't apologise for having a successful life and family... and better cars and houses than you will ever own. Your recent health issues was a form of karma... you should have learned from it. You can go to hell and good riddance to u!

"I'm only sorry I have to stoop to your level and respond."

His attack on Watson is not strictly out of the blue. Watson ran the TRC KZN office between 1994-1996 where Singh was an investigator

Watson told Noseweek she did not know Joubert but remembered Singh well."I can only describe him as an objectionable, self-opinionated, conflictual person, who always has his own interests at heart before those of justice. He has the ability to start litigation and nastiness on every issue, and his letter referring to me as a lesbian is true but unnecessary and totally shows off his character," said Watson. She added that, of the 140 staff she had working for her in the TRC, "Singh was the only person with whom I had serious conflict".

She said because of his constant threats of litigation she had kept a file on him until 2009.

Pietermaritzburg Magistrate's Court

"He threatened me with litigation and the Regional Convenor, Commissioner Richard Lyster, and the late vice-chair, Dr Alex Boraine, confirmed that the TRC would pay my costs should the litigation proceed to court, which it never did. My opinion of Mr Singh was that he did not have sufficient integrity or skill to be an investigator in the TRC and I am surprised that he has risen to the role of senior magistrate as his ethical framework is, in my opinion, seriously lacking."

Watson's views on Singh are not newly formed. On 12 November 1997 she wrote to Archbishop Tutu, then chairman of the TRC, about Singh.

In this letter Watson told how Singh seldom arrived on time, often left work early, "regularly does not put in an appearance in the office for a day or two" and takes the office car home over weekends without authorisation.

She told the Arch she had called him an "arrogant young bastard" before apologising - not for her anger but for her reaction.

"He revels in any publicity that he can stir up. His ignorance regarding the [political situation in KZN] is a continual source of amazement to his colleagues."

Watson recalled how Singh had "received gifts from perpetrators of violence in the form of a book... which he took the trouble to have signed by ex-members of the Security Branch who were responsible for the killings of activists".

Singh told Noseweek in several broad statements that there was a cabal seeking to discredit him despite their own chequered histories and to stop him practising his role as a senior magistrate, often on the most sensitive of cases. He said this group involved magistrates, businessmen and journalists including a network in Pietermaritzburg of "old liberal, confused, gay, white people" - although, he said, he had nothing against gay people.

Singh said he stood by his comments on Watson and that his record at the TRC spoke for itself. He said he had received a commendation from Tutu via the Department of Justice for his work at the TRC.

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