A legal profession where rules are not only read in books, but are practised and adhered to

July 1st, 2023

Candidate legal practitioner, Shandukani Mudau.

Shandukani Mudau is a 28-year-old candidate legal practitioner and former President of the Black Lawyers Association Student Chapter National Executive Committee (BLA-SC NEC). Ms Mudau was born in Vyeboom village near Vuwani. She completed her matric at Tshipakoni Secondary School where she completed grade ten to matric. After passing matric she enrolled to study an LLB at the University of Venda.

She graduated in 2022 and attended the School for Legal Practice at the University of Venda campus, which was launched in 2021. After completing law school, she was afforded an opportunity to work as a candidate legal practitioner at Mashabela Attorneys Inc and was the first candidate legal practitioner to be registered under legal practitioner Sikhanyiso Moyo.


Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): Why did you choose to study law?

Shandukani Mudau (SM): Growing up we did not have career options and the only fields, which seemed respectable within the community was teacher, police officer or lawyer. At that time, I just wanted to be a magistrate, not knowing I had to be an admitted legal practitioner and work my way up. Lucky enough my father was a police officer and I would try on his clothes during plays at church or at school and I got the nickname ‘Sergeant Mudau,’ which I low key loved and I always said ‘law chose me’. During my matric year my half-brother was stabbed to death and the way in which it affected my father and siblings was very bad. Following the tragic death of my late brother, no arrest was made even after witnesses came forth to say who had stabbed him, nothing was done. It was only the community that took matters into their own hands, which was not enough to me. I had questions as to why the police did not do anything? Why were those accused of killing my brother not brought to justice and why were they still alive and he was not? Why is our legal system not assisting the marginalised? I felt that we had a legal system, which was not for us since we could not access it at the time.

I then decided to study law to bring awareness to previously disadvantaged members of the community who are facing different kinds of crimes on a day-to-day basis and to be able to solve disputes within communities.


KR: As a candidate legal practitioner, what are some of the lessons you are learning about the legal profession?

SM: The legal profession is what Theodore Roosevelt described in his speech titled ‘Citizenship in a Republic’ popularly known as ‘Man in the arena’. It is a profession that is very jealous and requires you to prepare extensively for it to yield a positive outcome, it requires patience, persistence, passion, and self-discipline. You must be in the arena to win and make it in this profession. It is a profession that is not too friendly and does not have room for making mistakes, as that one simple mistake can cost you millions or a client’s freedom.

I am learning that the legal system is not immune to change, however, it is moving at a slow pace. Women are being embraced within the legal profession even though we are still overlooked and undermined by our male counterparts especially in law firms. We still have women that are expected to give sexual favours in order to be within the system and have their articles registered.

The legal profession is not so friendly to candidate legal practitioners, in a sense that most of our fellow candidate legal practitioners are being exploited by their principals and ill-treated, whereas some are not even compensated for the work that they do and they are scared to even do anything or to leave the firms where they are being ill-treated.


KR: You were the President of the BLA-SC NEC. What are some challenges that law students and candidate legal practitioners have brought to your organisation for you to address?

SM: During my term as the President of the BLA-SC NEC, my office used to address issues surrounding articles and vocational work programmes. What I have realised is that we have a lot of students who after completion of their degrees, get stuck without finding articles because no one is willing to employ a graduate that does not have Practical Legal Training. The programme is expensive for those students who used the National Student Financial Aid Scheme while still doing their degrees. As a result after completion of their degrees, these students go and work as cashiers or petrol attendants just to survive, in the hopes of raising funds to pay for the fees for school for legal practice, which increases every year. In an attempt to assist such graduates and to raise those funds for them, the BLA-SC looked at bursaries that used to assist associations, such as the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), that fund such students and pay for their fees. In our attempt we approached the Treasurer and Education offices on reviving the programme, which I hope the current president together with his collective finalise on and bring back that funding programme through the BLA.

During my term as president, we received a lot of letters challenging us to address some of the requirements of being a candidate legal practitioner, which some firms were requiring, such as a graduate must have their own car and a valid driver’s licence. We found these requirements to be absurd and discriminatory because most of our graduates especially those who are from disadvantaged backgrounds were automatically disqualified from being candidate legal practitioners. We addressed these issues together with the BLA and such requirements were scraped and any firm that still requires a graduate to have such can be reported to the Legal Practice Council (LPC).

Most of our female members would complain of harassment from their seniors in the profession while doing vocational work and articles. When we offered assistance, they would opt to remain anonymous for fear of having no one believing them or wanting to associate with them in future, which led them to abandon their complains.

We provided legal assistance to our leaders across the country who would get arrested and suspended during strikes or while advocating for students. We further partnered with the South African Union of Students in order to assist Student Representative Council members with legal services when they require it. This is done through the BLA Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) across the country, when a need for such services arises, we would communicate with PEC members, and they would assist.

The Safety and Security Sector Education and Training Authority was one of the programmes that had and still has issues when it came to disbursement of candidate’s stipends. Candidates would go for more than four months without getting paid. We addressed these issues through our Treasurer office and further escalated the matter to the BLA as it was also in charge of the programme.


KR: Are young legal practitioners being heard and given platforms?

SM: Young legal practitioners are being given a platform through organisations, such as the BLA and others. The BLA has established young professionals, which will be formally launched in November during the AGM. Such platforms will give candidates a platform to voice the problems that they go through on a day-to-day basis. Some of the aims and objectives of the BLA as per s 3.1 of the BLA constitution is to ‘promote, protect and uphold the rights and interests of its members’, it also strives ‘for the empowerment of all disadvantaged people especially women and young legal practitioners’ as per s 3.6.

We also have organisations such as the Law Society of South Africa, which is now focusing on empowering young legal practitioners and giving them a space to grow and deal with issues that affect young people, most especially candidate legal practitioners.


KR: This year South Africa is celebrating the centenary of the Women Legal Practitioners Act 7 of 1923. Do you have any thoughts on this?

SM: ‘The first woman to appear in the law reports seeking to be admitted as an attorney was Sonya Schlesin (Schlesin v Incorporated Law Society 1909 TS 363)’ (Patrick Bracher ‘The slow rise of women in the legal profession’ 2020 (Sept) DR 14). After having her application to be admitted as an attorney turned away Ms Schlesin never gave up nor neglected the fight for her admission. Back then women were not recognised to have the same benefits or recognition as men, women were inferior to men and the courts decorum did not cater for women attorneys. ‘The Transvaal Supreme Court held that because the word “attorney” had always referred to people “of that class who have always been capable of being attorneys, namely men, Bristowe J went on to say that admitting women as attorneys could also lead to them being admitted as advocates “a change which would mean an enormous difference in the practice of the courts in this country” and he clearly did not mean a positive change’ (Bracher (op cit)).

Ms Schlesin failed and was turned away, she also had to pay costs of the application for the Law Society. Madeline Wookey resorted to compelling the Incorporated law society to register her articles with an attorney and notary practising. ‘Maasdorp JP found that because there was no positive law in existence disqualifying women from being enrolled as attorneys, her application succeeded.  Maasdorp JP came to the conclusion that women were equally entitled with men to be enrolled as attorneys on giving proof of the necessary qualifications. The laws, he held, made enrolment compulsory except for good cause shown. As no good cause had been shown why women should not be entitled to sign articles and to become attorneys once they attained the required qualifications, the application was granted’ (Bracher (op cit)).

It is because of this victory that today we have the Women Legal Practitioners Act, which was promulgated by publication in the Government Gazette. On the 10 April 1923 women were officially and constitutionally recognised to be admitted as attorneys of the High Court as well as a notary or conveyancer. Today women are flourishing in these departments and doing exceptionally well.

The Women Legal Practitioners Act states as follows: ‘Women shall be entitled to be admitted to practise and to be enrolled as advocates, attorneys, notaries public or conveyancers in any province of the Union, subject to the same terms and conditions as apply to men, and any law in force in any province of the Union regulating the admission or enrolment of persons as advocates, attorneys, notaries public or conveyancers shall henceforth be interpreted accordingly’ (Bracher (op cit)).

The gap from the 10 April 1923 and 2023 is very big, however, we are not yet at a point where we can say women are equal to men. The legal profession is not so friendly to women. ‘We are still not anywhere near where we should be’, women are now taking space and ‘leading in sufficient numbers in all branches of the profession’ (Bracher (op cit)) and have to bring ten times the hard work than their male counterparts.

The former Chief Justice of the Orange Free State, Melius de Villiers wrote an article ‘Women and the legal profession’ (1918) 35 SALJ 289 (see Bracher (op cit)). He states in his article that ‘intellectually the average woman will be at least as capable as the average man to be an attorney or advocate and that “the administration of justice will be greatly benefited by women” being admitted he went on to say, relying on the “interest of the community at large”, that the “point is that of motherhood”. He justified this by saying: “For the sake of perpetuation of the race, … women are by nature what they are; if in the part assigned to women by nature an injustice is done to them or a hardship is inflicted upon them, these are none of man’s doings, nor can he with the best wishes in the world do anything to make things otherwise. A revolt against nature by women may be successful, but it is the community at large that would have to suffer for it. And a revolt against nature is involved in any proposal to allow women to enter the legal profession’ (Bracher (op cit)).


KR: What kind of legal profession do you envisage, as a young black woman?

SM: I envisage a legal profession that is free from discrimination, and everyone is treated equal regardless of their skin colour, a legal profession where the LPC will have Board Exams Question papers in one language and not in Afrikaans and English. While Afrikaners are being given preference by being examined in their own mother language, a profession where we all write one paper in one language, which is English.

A profession that is accessible to everyone and not only the privileged, a profession where rules are not only read in books, but are practised and adhered to, a profession free from corruption within the court officials wherein you must pay a certain registrar to get a date, which is recent and not far.

A profession whereby women are not afraid to hold high office ranks because they are always undermined and talked down by their male and female colleagues. A profession whereby we as women do not have to work ten times harder and sacrifice to be accepted within the profession.

A profession whereby a woman is not expected to perform on the same ladder as men because men and women will never be the same. Women must take care of their families whereas men do not, and such gives men an advantage to be ahead as they have more time to prepare than women.


KR: Who are some of the women you look up to in the legal profession and why?

SM: The woman that I look up to is Mabaeng Denise Lenyai who has just been appointed to be a Judge of the Gauteng Division of the High Court. She is a former Deputy President of the BLA and also former President of the LSSA to name a few of her achievements. I look up to Ms Lenyai because of the way in which she carries herself within the legal profession, she is the epitome of dignity, calmness, determination, hard work and a God fearing woman.

We all know that the legal profession is not friendly to women, especially those who thrive to make a change and be visible even with all the odds stacked against her she still made it and prospered from having her firm closed down to becoming a judge of the Gauteng Division, that has to be dedication, self-discipline, hard work and God’s grace.

The reason why I chose Ms Lenyai is because I have had the opportunity to work and interact with her when she was still the General Secretary of the BLA. I have learned to remain calm when faced with challenges and to also be a solution to other people’s problems without expecting a reward in the end, but most importantly to always give back to the community.


KR: Besides the BLA, which other organisation are you a part of and what is your role there?

SM: I am a member in good standing of the Black Management Forum (BMF) SC University of Venda branch. I was elected the first female chairperson of the branch in 2020. Shortly after that I was elected as the Academic Transformation Officer to serve at the NEC, which I excelled in, until the end of office. I was then elected to serve as the National Deputy Chairperson of the BMF-SC wherein I was elected in December 2022, and term of office will end in December 2023. The BMF-SC stands for ‘the development and empowerment of student leadership, primarily among black students at tertiary institutions, and the creation of leadership structures and processes, which will enhance the abilities and capabilities’ of students on entering the labour market or corporate world (https://wcbmf.wordpress.com, accessed 20-6-2023).

My role within the BMF-SF is to ensure that the organisation runs smoothly, and that the memorandum of incorporation is adhered to by our branches across the country, most of all addressing issues that are affecting our general memberships such as financial exclusions whereby the organisation offers bursaries and short-term lessons from ALX Africa programmes whereby in the end participants gets certificate.

I am a member of South African Women Lawyers Association in good standing and looking forward to joining other organisations such as the LSSA and partaking in the activities that they have.


KR: Where do you see yourself in the next five years in the legal profession?

SM: I see myself being a director of my own law firm and studying towards an agriculture related degree since I have interest in farming and horticulture.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2023 (July) DR 19.

De Rebus