Mr Derek Wille holds an LLB from the then University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg where he met, and became close friends with, Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
Wille has attracted some controversy during his legal career.
In 2006 the Judicial Service Commission investigated a complaint regarding Wille’s law firm awarding a study bursary for “disadvantaged” students to Hlophe’s son, Thuthuka. The bursary was awarded in 2002 and the JSC dismissed the complaint after finding that Hlophe had no knowledge of the payment.
Wille was also criticised for his behaviour during the “Travelgate scandal” where members of parliament had colluded with travel agencies to fleece taxpayers out of millions of rands through dodgy booking and cancellation of flight tickets.
The Sowetan newspaper reported on “an extraordinary series of evasions and apparent untruths by the liquidators and Parliament’s attorney, Derek Wille, who was responsible for the plan to stop action against MPs.”
This related to a plan, apparently emanating from parliament, to stop MPs implicated in the Travelgate scandal from paying back the monies siphoned off from their travel budgets. According to the Mail & Guardian, Wille’s account was “directly contradicted by the record of the liquidation.” According to the newspaper , Wille, “faxed the draft resolutions to the liquidators and asked them to convene a formal meeting of the creditors.”
A meeting to this effect was called, and Wille was accused of acting dishonestly after initially telling creditors of one of the main travel agencies involved in the scandal, that “Parliament did not place the advert calling for the meeting in the Government Gazette. The advertisement was placed by the liquidators.”
Wille said that they did indeed propose drafting of the resolutions to the liquidators, and the liquidators are the correct, and only party in law, able to advertise for and convene a meeting. After this became contentious, he was no longer instructed in the matter.
Between 2001-2003 and 2015-2017 he has acted in the Western Cape High Court.
During one of the earlier stints he adjudicated a matter involving a body corporate trying to evict residents, who were sex-workers, from an apartment block in Body Corporate, Shaftesbury Sectional Title scheme v Rippert’s Estate & Others.
At issue was whether the court could grant an ejectment order against persons who continually contravened the conduct rules of a body corporate.
Wille acknowledged that the “occupants of the flat admitted that they were employed as escorts. The security register at the entrance to the block of flats showed a constant stream of visitors to the flat during all hours of the day and night. The applicant was never notified of any changes in respect of the occupants of the flat and the situation grew steadily worse …”
“In my view there is a pressing ‘social need’ in South Africa to enable ‘sectional title’ owners and their controlling bodies to enforce compliance with their conduct rules and in so doing, if necessary, deprive the owner and/or occupier of the right to reside in or use of a unit in circumstances where there is a constant and deliberate contravention of the conduct rules, including the non-payment of legitimate levies imposed. I can find no authority for this Court to grant an order for ejectment in the present circumstances. Even if I am wrong in this regard, procedurally the applicant has not laid the proper foundation for such an order and the conduct rules of the applicant do not provide for ejectment under these circumstances.”
Wille ordered the respondents to abide by the conduct rules.
He is a keen golfer and chairs the transformation committee of both the Metropolitan Golf Club and the Western Cape Golf Union.
October 2017 Interview:
October 2017 – Interview synopsis
Despite the various controversies linked to his relationship with Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe, alleged unethical behaviour as a lawyer and some pay-for-work allegations surrounding one of his previous law firms, attorney Derek Wille was appointed to the Bench following his interview.
Wille’s past has attracted some controversy (see profile), and the General Council of the Bar (GCB) submitted comments to the Judicial Service Commission regarding Wille’s suitability for appointment based on a “survey” they had conducted.
According to the silks and senior juniors interviewed, there were “strong reservations” about the appropriateness of Wille’s appointment. These related “almost entirely to the candidate’s conduct as an attorney”. Reading through the GCB’s comments, Fiona Stewart, Western Cape Premier Helen Zille’s representative noted that Wille was described by the GCB as “often rude to opponents”, “uncollegial”, that he was “often untrustworthy as an opponent and that he had acted unprofessionally on numerous occasions”. (*Please see note below.)
The GCB did however note that Wille enjoyed better support from younger advocates at the Bar and “some senior members” who encountered him as an acting judge.
Asked to comment by Stewart, Wille said he was “saddened by these comments” and felt that after 27 years of lawyering “high profile cases” one is “bound to have differences with your colleagues”. He said that he had “matured” and was “a more humble and accommodating opponent than I was”.
On the payment of a bursary to Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe’s son by Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes, a firm he was a partner at, Wille said although he had been head of the firm’s bursary scheme, he had “stood down” from the panel which had interviewed Thuthuka Hlophe before the bursary was awarded, and that the interview had taken place at a different branch of the firm.
Stewart also raised another concern from submissions sent to the JSC, these involved Smith Tabata Buchanan Boyes and allegations it had paid for conveyancing work to be channelled to the firm. Wille acknowledged that one of his fellow partners had been struck off the roll and that four exco members had been suspended for this, but denied any direct knowledge of the practise.
Wille had also been criticised for allegedly unethical conduct relating to his representing parliament in the “Travelgate” controversy where members of parliament had defrauded taxpayers by working in cahoots with travel agents to submit false travel invoices (see Profile). The commission appeared to acept Wille’s explanation that this was merely “bad press” and that he felt he had been “misquoted badly” regarding his attempts to find a compromise solution to the amounts, if anything, MPs should pay back into the state’s coffers for their fraud.
Whether the commission allowed Wille a relatively easy ride because of his relationship with Hlophe remains any one’s guess. Many commissioners, Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema included, appeared impressed by their friendship.
At the beginning of Wille’s interview, Hlophe had admitted that he knew Wille since their university days in Pietermaritzburg where there were both studying law at the then University of Natal.
“He helped me, I must be frank,” Hlophe started, “I remember one day I arrived in the library the morning after I was assaulted by the cops — they klapped me, harassing me for being in a white area. Derek asked me why was I tearful? I told him, he immediately took my dompas and employed me as his gardener, that is where we started knowing each other,” said Hlophe.
Hlophe said Wille would accompany him to the council offices every three months to endorse his dompas “to enable me to live in a white area which in turn enabled me to get my law degree…”
Malema, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and several others on the commission appeared suitably impressed by this history. Whether the reaction would have been different if Hlophe was not in the room and Wille had told the story himself was a question left unanswered.
Hlophe did recuse himself from the commission’s deliberations and voting on Wille’s candidacy, but it was obvious that his intervention early on in the interview had left its mark on voting slips.
*The comments referred to by Fiona Stewart above must be read together with a letter from the General Council of the Bar, in response to concerns raised by Judge Wille about the GCB comments. The GCB’s letter can be read here: GCB Letter – Response to Justice Wille.