An LLB degree at 69 proves it is never too late to study

July 29th, 2020

Phillip Dhlamini’s lifelong dream of becoming a legal practitioner finally came true when the 69-year-old obtained his LLB degree with the class of 2020 from the University of Limpopo.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

Military Veteran, Phillip Dhlamini’s lifelong dream of becoming a legal practitioner finally came true when the 69-year-old obtained his LLB degree with the class of 2020 from the University of Limpopo. When speaking to De Rebus, Mr Dhlamini from Johannesburg, said his biggest influences in his life were his parents, who like many South Africans, fought for liberation during the Apartheid regime. He pointed out that his father and siblings were detained in 1963 for their role in the liberation struggle and he would often tell his mother that he would become a legal practitioner to represent them in court.

However, his dream was halted when he became involved in the liberation struggle after he was also detained and then expelled from school. Mr Dhlamini later joined the military. It was there that he realised his interest in matters that concerned employees. He pointed out that in 1977 he became an active member of a labour movement and ever since he has been active in labour matters. His role in labour matters have seen him in and out of courts representing fellow colleagues and himself. He said because he was involved in labour matters, he needed to familiarise himself with labour law, which in turn, taught him about what the requirements were when dealing with labour law matters. Mr Dhlamini added he had to learn how to draft documents that would help him in his task.

Mr Dhlamini said because of his hard work and dedication in military labour relation matters, when he left the military, many labour issues had been solved, including when Mr Dhlamini had challenged the South African National Defence Force to obtain the rank of Colonel. His other roles included being a member of the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC). He was elected as National Chairperson of the PAC and he served as a secretary for legal affairs of the PAC. In 1996 he was the deputy chairperson of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army Military Veterans Association.

Mr Dhlamini also worked for Sekati Monyane Attorneys, a law firm in Pretoria, as a litigation manager. He said that in his role he had to make sure court papers were ready and complied with court rules, he helped legal practitioners with files and he would also advise young legal practitioners.

Mr Dhlamini pointed out it that it was in 2013 during a court case where he was representing himself in an appeal matter against former PAC president, Letlapa Mphahlele, that the presiding judge at the time, Frans Kgomo, told him that it was never too late to study law. He added that those words encouraged him to peruse a career in law. However, Mr Dhlamini was faced with obstacles adding that when he applied to university, his application was unsuccessful as he did not have a matric certificate. That led him to court where he challenged the University of Limpopo to allow him to study law.

Mr Dhlamini added that he drafted his own court papers and represented himself, and subsequently won the case. He said that he reached an agreement with the University of Limpopo and that they reconsidered his application to study law. In January 2016, he enrolled at the University of Limpopo and had to move from his home in Johannesburg to stay at a rented place outside the university so he could study fulltime as a law student. He said that he had to adjust to being an ‘older’ student in a class where other students were as young as 18.

Mr Dhlamini said some students thought he was a lecturer, while young lecturers thought he was in their classes to investigate them. He pointed out that during his second year he was lucky to receive residential accommodation from the university, and the move made him more effective in his studies. Mr Dhlamini said the biggest support system was his family, especially his eldest grandson who knew his position, where he came from and that education was a priority in their family. He said his move to study, has inspired younger members of his family to study further, as well as other people in Zola, Soweto, where he grew up.

Mr Dhlamini who graduated in a virtual graduation ceremony due to the COVID-19 pandemic, said he wanted to apply for articles of clerkship, however, he has since decided to apply for pupillage.

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