By Mapula Thebe
The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) held its 39th annual general meeting and conference on 21 and 22 October in Kimberley under the theme: ‘Urgent need to redress skewed briefing patterns for quality legal work for all’.
Proceedings of the conference began with a gala dinner, which incorporated the Second Annual Godfrey Pitje Memorial Lecture. The lecture was to be delivered by advocate Mojanku Gumbi, in her absence, Judge George Maluleke of the Gauteng Division of the High Court, delivered the address.
Judge Maluleke began his address by welcoming the Pitje family and all those present at the dinner. He went on to say that Mr Pitje was the first director of the BLA Legal Education Center while he was the chairman of the legal education trust at the time. Reading from the speech, Judge Maluleke said:
‘The heading of this address is “Activism with a purpose”. … We meet today at a time of great uncertainty in the world. The global south is suffering from the negative effect of economies that are growing at a pedestrian rate. Coupled with instances of insecurity, brought about by such activities of those credited out by groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Shabaab. Thrown into that is the slowing down in growth in China, the political and economic difficulties in Brazil, in Russia the disintegration of Serbia and its surrounds.
The global north is also not doing well, with the unknown long-term effects of Brexit, the rise of total authoritarianism represented by the fact that a man such as Donald Trump would even get to the stage where he is … . The countries in the south of Europe are barely surviving with unemployment levels among the youth reaching as high as 43,9% in Spain.
Our country is also facing a myriad of challenges. It is at times like these when we remember that men such as Godfrey Mokgonane Pitje represented the best that this country had to offer. In his lifetime one found many manifestations of both defiance and compliance, non-racialism and anti-racism, anti-sexism and a healthy dose of patriarchal practices, internationalism and African nationalism, and other seemingly contradictory tendencies. … I realised that what I thought were contradictory tendencies were in fact complimentary. …
Mr Pitje was an ANC supporter, he believed totally in the principle of non-racialism, but he could have just as well been an African nationalist or an advocate of black consciousness.
In the inaugural lecture, then Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke referred to the well-known case of R v Pitje [1960 (4) SA 709 (A)], which had at its subject the defiance that came to be identified with Mr Pitje. Mr Pitje had refused to sit in a corner reserved for Bantu lawyers in the courtroom in Boksburg, as a result of which he was charged with contempt of court. There are many other instances of defiance associated with Mr Pitje.
I am raising these two characteristics of Mr Pitje, defiance and unity, in an attempt to see if we can learn anything from that to find solutions to one of the most urgent national challenges in the cry of our young people under the banner of “fees must fall”. When the “fees must fall” movement started there was a unity of purpose exhibited by students from across party political lines, they identified their common enemy as the unaffordable costs of tertiary education. Soon after the movement started, it became clear that we the adults started trying to pull the students into some political camps. …
I want to suggest that if we may step back a little and allow the students debate the matter of the cost of higher education as a united force, as personified by Mr Pitje, we would have taken an important step towards resolution. …’
Update on the National Forum
On the second day of the conference, member of the National Forum on the Legal Profession (NF) Kathleen Dlepu gave delegates an update on the workings of the NF. She said that the NF is a body that will pave the way for the Legal Practice Council (LPC). She added that the President of the BLA, Lutendo Sigogo, is chairing one of the committees that is tasked to deal with difficult issues such as employees and the assets. ‘There are various other tasks carried out by the various committees to ensure consensus and that what is decided is endorsed by the broader profession,’ she added.
Ms Dlepu said that the NF meets almost every Saturday and it hopes to not extend the time frame of its mandate. She noted that no resolution has been reached in terms of the elections for the LPC as some are advocating for quotas as in line with s 7 of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014. ‘A decision has been made that there will be two voter rolls, one for attorneys and another for advocates,’ she added.
Speaking about the funding of the LPC, Ms Dlepu said that after a cost analysis has been done, recommendations will be made to the Justice Minister with the view of efficient implementation of the LPA. ‘One of the challenges we have to deal with is that attorneys have clear data in terms of numbers in the profession, whereas the advocates do not have such,’ she added.
Update from AFF
Chairperson of the Attorneys Fidelity Fund (AFF), Nonduduzo Khanyile-Kheswa, said that the primary objective of the fund is to provide compensation to members of the public, while its secondary objective is to provide for professional indemnity insurance. ‘The AFF also funds the regulators to conduct its activities including education. … With regard to the financial position of the fund, the AFF has to mull over some of the activities that the AFF currently funds such as education and professional indemnity insurance,’ she added.
Professional association update
Former President of the BLA, Busani Mabunda, noted that the issue of a professional association was not a new topic. He added: ‘There are implications which have arisen out of the LPA, things are not going to be the same. … The LPC creates a new regime, if we do not formulate an association for legal practitioners, we will be in a situation where we are left in a lurch. We have been made to understand that there are certain members of the profession that do not see a need of an association. The new association will not be a perpetuation of the status quo.’
Government’s commitment to transformation
Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises, Bulelani Gratitude Magwanishe, delivered the keynote address. Mr Magwanishe reiterated government’s commitment to the transformation of the legal profession. He added: ‘We recognise the critical role of lawyers in the broader transformation of our society. … The emergence of black law firms served to strengthen the fight against race dominance. This was evident in the coming into being of the Mandela and Tambo law firm.
The democratic government has a constitutional responsibility to correct the imbalances created by the past. … In the context of the South African economy dialogue the traditional white companies have for centuries dominated the economic space insofar as procurement of goods and services is concerned.
Out of the six state owned companies reporting to the department of public enterprises, four are being audited by black auditing firms and the remaining two by the auditor general of South Africa. …
An environment is being created where the genius of black legal practitioners can thus forth shine. The framework for the transformation of the state legal services issued by the Department of Justice and the promotion of capacity building by ensuring that historically disadvantaged practitioners have access to legal matters of substantive value [and the] promotion of sufficient flow of instructions to the historically disadvantaged legal practitioners.’
Mapula Thebe NDip Journ (DUT) BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the editor of De Rebus.
This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Dec) DR 9.