BLA’s Youth Forum officially launched

August 1st, 2018

President of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), Lutendo Sigogo, officially launched the BLA’s Youth Forum on 30 June at the Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) launched its Youth Forum on 30 June at the Soweto Hotel and Conference Centre in Soweto. The BLA’s Youth Forum, is said to be a platform for young legal practitioners to discuss challenges and issues they are faced with in the legal profession.

President of the BLA, Lutendo Sigogo, said the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the BLA recognised that the formation of a youth forum within the organisation was long overdue. He added that the NEC was aware that the attempts of establishing a youth forum were defeated seven years ago. ‘We are thankful that this NEC saw light and ran with this noble idea. We believe that this is because we are alive to the fact that a nation or formation, which does not care about its youth, does not have future,’ Mr Sigogo said.

Mr Sigogo pointed out that it was significant for the BLA to gather in Soweto to launch the BLA Youth Forum, as the BLA could not identify any place more befitting for the launch. He said Soweto was where the youth of South Africa (SA) took it on themselves to break the shackles of Bantu education. Mr Sigogo added that the youth of that time put their lives on the line in order to reject Afrikaans as the medium of instruction in schools. ‘We have come here to say we acknowledge your struggle, which freed all of us today. Further, in 1955, Soweto, in particular witnessed the historic adoption of the Freedom Charter. The Charter is arguable the bedrock of our Constitution,’ Mr Sigogo added.

Mr Sigogo said when the BLA launched the Youth Forum in Soweto, it was saying to the youth, to take the baton from Hector Pieterson, Tsietsi Mashinini, Solomon Mahlangu and hundreds of other youth who died in Soweto, other parts of the country and abroad for a cause. He noted that the youth of that era knew that if they did not stand up for themselves, no one would do it for them. He added that it was on that basis that the BLA wanted young people to be conscious of their current situation and of what still needs to be done.

Mr Sigogo gave examples of the youth of SA who stood up through the struggles, the youth who did what Frantz Fanon once said: ‘Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.’ He mentioned people such as Alfred Mangena and Pixley ka Isaka Seme in 1912 when they participated in the formation of the African National Congress (ANC). In 1944 when Nelson Mandela, Anton Lembede, Ashby Mda, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo formed the ANC Youth League, he said they were young. In the mid 1960s with the banning of the ANC and other political parties, the arrest and exiling of political leaders, a young man, namely Steve Biko, emerged as the leader of Black Consciousness Movement (BCM).

Mr Sigogo said it was through the deep influence of the BCM ideology that the youth of 1976 came up with the Soweto uprising. He added that it was immediately after the 1976 uprisings that the following year, in 1977, the black youth in the legal profession formed the BLA. He also mentioned the youth that led the 2015 #feesmustfall campaign in order to tackle the barriers to education. Mr Sigogo pointed out that it was the youth who are fighting for economic emancipation and restoration of land to their rightful owners without compensation.

Mr Sigogo said if the youth of the BLA did not stand up and occupy their space, history would judge them as having betrayed their mission. He pointed out that youth within the BLA must stand up because the legal profession was still not transformed and new minds are needed to transform it. ‘The legal profession is one of the oldest professions in the world. It is also the most conservative arena where the old claim guardianship of the profession and how things must be done, the youth’s ideas are not seriously entertained, if at all,’ Mr Sigogo said.

He continued: ‘We need wisdom of young people to assist us navigate through the new era, which is being introduced by the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014. It is a worrying factor that the voice of the youth is missing in the National Forum, a body, which is established to lay down the basic conditions for transformation of the legal profession,’ Mr Siogogo added. He said the transformation project is about the future, but it was being managed by older people, many of whom, did not believe in young people.

Mr Sigogo added that the youth of the BLA needed to come up with mechanisms and systems to ensure that the youth are amply represented in the Legal Practice Council (LPC), the Provincial Councils and all the committees of the LPC in order to bring fresh ideas in the legal profession. He noted that it was the youth who can properly transform how the law is practiced, by finding cheaper ways of serving and filing documents within the profession. He added that the youth was capable of doing away with traditional ‘messenger’ means of serving pleadings. ‘It is youth who will come up with rules and regulations, which will open the profession to all. The youth – given the opportunity – will come up with the means of reducing the ever sky rocketing legal fees,’ Mr Sigogo said.

Mr Sigogo pointed out that the BLA in partnership with the National Democratic Lawyers Association (NADEL) championed the formation of the LSSA and helped black legal practitioners find representation in the governing structures of the legal profession. He said that when the legal profession changes its regulatory body the youth within the BLA will have to devise acceptable methods of taking the legal profession forward. He noted that the LPA was about access to the legal profession, access to legal services and access to justice and said this must be the mission of the young legal practitioners of today.

Mr Sigogo said in order to deal with access to the legal profession the BLA was championing that the subscription fees in the legal profession be reduced. He pointed out that the National Forum on the Legal Profession (NF) wanted to recommend a subscription fee of R 4 025 per year per legal practitioner, however, he noted that the BLA opposed this and have now set a subscription fee at R 2 500. ‘We cannot wait another month before the newly proposed subscription fee becomes operational because the current subscription fees are a stumbling block to our youth. We have approached all the provincial law societies to reduce the subscription fees to be in line with the NF’s proposed R 2 500,’ Mr Sigogo said.

‘I must report that the biggest law society in the country, the Law Society of the Northern Provinces, has agreed that its members will, with effect from the 1 July 2018, pay new reduced subscription of R 2 500 and newly admitted attorneys will pay pro rata rate of R 1 500. The Cape Law Society and the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society are still considering our proposal. We know that the main beneficiaries of this reduction will be young lawyers,’ Mr Sigogo added.

Mr Sigogo said the BLA NEC will draw up the terms of reference of the Youth Forum’s Steering Committee. ‘We believe that this step will necessitate amendment of our Constitution to cater for the forum’s operations. There is need that the leader of the forum must sit in both the NEC and the National Working Committee,’ Mr Sigogo said. However, he pointed out that it must be clear that the youth forum will not be an autonomous structure from the BLA. He added that it was a special committee of the BLA and it was to be regulated by the Constitution of the BLA.

Member of the Black Lawyers Association’s National Executive Committee, Mongezi Mpahlwa, spoke about bridging the gap between law students leaving university and entering the legal profession.

Multiple stakeholder engagement

National Executive Member of the BLA, Mongezi Mpahlwa, spoke about how the BLA Student Chapter (BLA SC) was established in 2010, he said students decided that in line with the mother body there was a need to start a student chapter with the view to bridge the gap between leaving university and entering the legal profession. He added that through the establishment of the BLA SC they were able to bring young people closer to the BLA. The BLA were able to form an initiative to open the profession up for younger people via vacation work and career guidance initiatives in collaboration with various universities. However, he noted that there was still a lot to be done to make sure the BLA SC was stronger and doing great things.

Mr Mpahlwa said if one fast forwards to 2018 there was a need to start the BLA’s Youth Forum. He added that there were still young people who felt that they could not relate to the issues and discourse in the BLA and felt like they did not have a platform to address such issues and challenges that they were faced with. Mr Mpahlwa pointed out that he did not see the reason why the Department of Justice did not have an induction programme through the Office of the State Attorney, where it took a pool of high school students, particularly matriculants to universities and, assist them with funding throughout their studies. He added that programmes where SA collaborates with international bodies, such as the International Bar Association should also be included.

Mr Mpahlwa suggested that there be an apprenticeship programme where young students are trained, prepared and absorbed into the legal profession. He said with the LPC coming into effect, he did not see why there could not be a similar programme. He added that the Department of Justice through the LPC, can take existing candidate legal practitioners to different government organisations and expose them to different fields of law and in that way the challenges the youth in the legal profession are faced with would be addressed and access to work would become easier.

Mr Mpahlwa said exposure was very important and without it justice would not be done to the youth. He added that collaborations with international organisations would be very critical, taking into account the International Arbitration Act 15 of 2017. He pointed out that SA, through international partnerships, would learn a lot from foreign jurisdictions. Mr Mpahlwa said that the BLA was in talks with Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr about establishing a skills transfer programme, with the aim to upskill members of the legal profession, particularly black lawyers. He added that a senior legal practitioner would have to collaborate with a young black legal practitioner in any particular case that they would work on.

Mr Mpahlwa pointed out that the idea was that big law firms would collaborate with small law firms on the instruction on matters that they are working on and in that way fees are shared and skills are transferred.  However, a comment from the floor was raised on why there should be collaborating with only the ‘Big Five law firms’. A member of the BLA said that there were capable black law firms who could assist with the transfer of skills to young legal practitioners and small law firms. The member further commented that the BLA needed to consult with senior legal practitioners who were willing to give training to young legal practitioners.

Mr Mpahlwa noted that candidate legal practitioners within the BLA suggested that there be young legal practitioners involved in the LPC, so they are able to have a voice within that structure. To direct and channel challenges faced by young legal practitioners in the legal profession.

Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, said the youth needs support from the older generation. He was speaking at the Black Lawyers Association Youth Forum launch on 30 June.

Inviting youth into the conversation

The Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, John Jeffery, said the launching of the BLA Youth Forum was a great initiative, because young voices were important. He added that young legal practitioners were faced with particular issues in the legal profession, but generally they were also faced with other issues as the youth in SA. He noted that the legal profession was conservative by nature, and meant that by conservative it was white and male dominated. He pointed out that there was a lot of pressure for young legal practitioners entering corporate law firms to bring a client base with them or establish and build their own client base.

Mr Jeffery added that young black legal practitioners had stated that networking opportunities were not available to black legal practitioners or those that were from traditionally rural areas. He said that clients, even black clients, would state that they wanted a white lawyer representing them. He pointed out that many black legal practitioners got articles of clerkships, became professional assistants and even associates, however, they did not get partnerships or become directors. He noted that of the black directors not a lot of them came up the ranks in some law firms, but instead directors were brought in from outside those law firms.

Mr Jeffery said the BLA Youth Forum should look into addressing issues, such as networking abilities. He pointed out that candidate legal practitioners and young legal practitioners who were starting their own law firms needed some form of support from the older generation. He added that going forward the BLA and NADEL should look if the legal profession could afford two forums instead of one. He noted that there was still a lot of work to do and a lot of issues to be addressed in the legal profession. Mr Jeffery said that he supported the BLA Youth Forum and would be eager to engage and look into the forum’s ideas in transforming the legal profession.

Deputy President of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), Baitseng Rangata, spoke at the launch of the BLA’s Youth Forum launch in Soweto.

Action for the future and a better BLA

Deputy President of the BLA, Baitseng Rangata said that the BLA NEC wanted to see the BLA Youth Forum succeed and they were ready to give their support. She added that in the struggle that the forefathers of the BLA had fought for has yielded results, because it has produced an environment where some members of the BLA are referred to as the senior members of the legal profession. She noted that some may not have realised the change, because they were not involved, witnessed or even participated in making it possible.

Ms Rangata added that as a woman in the legal profession no one would tell her to stand up and make it herself. She advised the young female practitioners that they had it in them to make it in the legal profession. She said that if women in the legal profession did not stand up on their own and search for mentors, no one was going to come to them. She pointed out that they needed to ‘raise their hands’. She noted that senior legal practitioners are ready to help, however, young legal practitioners need to stand up and show interest.

Ms Rangata said the BLA wanted to create a forum where the youth were able to talk and be able to identify burning issues. She added that senior legal practitioners are also faced with issues, such as how to better the education system and make sure that the younger generation are better equipped and be able to develop themselves further. She said that is where seniors came in as mentors of the youth. She pointed out that there were challenges where critics commented on the LLB degree, on how it needed to be changed from the four-year degree.

Ms Rangata said there was nothing wrong with the current four-year LLB degree. She pointed out that senior legal practitioners were also challenged with how they would close the gap to make sure that they create a level playing field for law graduates when entering the legal profession. She added that it was the responsibility of senior legal practitioners to deal with those challenges. She noted that as senior legal practitioners they wanted to partner with the young legal practitioners to see to it that they did not neglect young law graduates and expect them to excel in the beginning.

Ms Rangata said the type of work black legal practitioners received at government level did not allow them to open the windows of opportunity for the junior legal practitioners. She pointed out that every time black legal practitioners engage government, they get confusing statistics. She added that it could not be right that those statistics show one thing but then on the ground those numbers are not reflected. She told Deputy Minister John Jeffery that female legal practitioners were ready to join the judiciary. She noted that the judiciary has said that it was open and wanted to take female legal practitioners. Ms Rangata said for female legal practitioners to be better equipped and skilled for positions in the judiciary they have to be exposed to that kind of work.

Mr Sigogo introduced the following BLA members as the steering committee, which will oversee and manage the election of the first committee of the BLA Youth Forum. He said the steering committee would have six months to accomplish the task. The steering committee members are as follows –

  • Nape Masipa;
  • Nyambeni Davhana;
  • Sam Mkhize;
  • Nathi Dwayi;
  • Tuelo Ntsoane;
  • Molebogeng Phakane;
  • Ndangi Thovhakale; and
  • Peter Tibane.

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

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2018 (Aug) DR 4.

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