Committed to making human rights real for society

April 1st, 2024
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Legal Aid South Africa’s Limpopo and Mpumalanga’s Provincial Executive, Mpho Kgabi is the featured legal practitioner in the humanitarian feature column. This column, will include legal practitioners who work with human rights, pro bono work, and legal aid.

In 2024, this De Rebus monthly feature will focus on legal practitioners doing humanitarian work, including human rights work, pro bono work, and legal aid.

In this month’s issue we feature Legal Aid South Africa’s (Legal Aid SA’s) Limpopo and Mpumalanga’s Provincial Executive, Mpho Kgabi. Ms Kgabi grew up in Phokeng Village in Rustenburg under the care of her maternal grandmother. She studied a BProc degree at the University of Bophuthatswana (now the North-West University) in 1998. She also has a Diploma in Drafting and Interpretation of Contracts obtained from the University of Johannesburg, as well as a Leadership Certificate obtained from Wits Business School. Ms Kgabi said she studied law because growing up, her grandmother encouraged her to do better than her parents. Ms Kgabi pointed out that her father was a teacher, and her mother was a nurse. ‘My grandmother influenced me to believe that I can achieve more than my parents had,’ Ms Kgabi added.

 

Kgomotso Ramotsho (KG): What do human rights mean to you?

Mpho Kgabi (MK): Human rights are the basic rights that everyone is entitled to, because of our existence as human beings. These are inherent universal rights regardless of gender, nationality, religion, language, or ethnic origin. They are fundamental to all of us and include the right to live, the right to clean water, the right to healthcare and many other rights embodied in our Bill of Rights. These rights must not be violated; this compromises one’s quality of life. I have been committed to making human rights real for as long as I can remember.

 

KG: What is your role at Legal Aid SA?

MK: I am a Provincial Executive, responsible for the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. I oversee the administration of legal aid in both provinces, ensuring coverage of criminal courts, the granting of civil legal aid and legal assistance in land matters. My duties include, among others, managing all the Legal Aid SA personnel in the nine local offices and 17 satellite offices in Limpopo/Mpumalanga. I am also proactive in case flow management at the provincial level, participating in Provincial Efficiency Enhancement Committees (PEECs).

 

KG: What motivated you to pursue legal aid work instead of practising as a private legal practitioner?

MK: Around 2004, while I was in private practice, I realised the importance of Legal Aid SA’s work in the justice system. I was always helping with pro bono work but felt it was never enough as more and more people from disadvantaged communities continued seeking legal aid. I also saw the organisation growing into the biggest law firm in the country and wanted to be part of this positive development. This motivated me to join Legal Aid SA, as I realised that my passion is to help the poor and those in need. I joined Legal Aid SA in June 2004 and my passion for assisting the indigent and vulnerable continues to grow. Throughout the years I have been deeply fulfilled as I served different communities in various roles and Legal Aid SA jurisdictions. My work has made me realise my life’s purpose and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.

 

KG: Do you think the public is well informed about the role and duties of Legal Aid SA?

MK: A National Brand Perception Survey commissioned in the 2021-2022 financial year found that 67% of South Africans are aware of the role of and services provided by Legal Aid SA. There has also been an increase in the accessibility of our services and the likelihood that someone would recommend the entity to others. However, public education is an ongoing process that Legal Aid SA remains committed to.

 

KG: Statistically which types of cases are typically brought to Legal Aid SA by the public?

MK: In the 2022-2023 financial year, Legal Aid SA assisted 581 430 people:

  • 322 337 new criminal matters;
  • 48 805 new civil matters;
  • 326 new land matters; and
  • 209 962 people provided with legal advice at our offices, by the toll-free Legal Aid Advice Line and to remand detainees at correctional facilities.

A total of 13 167 children were assisted in 2022-2023; 7 161 in criminal matters and 6 006 in civil matters.

 

KG: The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development hosted a conference on the Integrated Criminal Justice System and Review of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. At the event, one of the delegates who was a representative for one of the civil society groups expressed concern about the handling of matters at court. The delegate said that cases with private legal practitioners representing clients are prioritised, unlike matters where clients are represented by legal aid practitioners. In your opinion, is this correct?

MK: This statement is incorrect. We track the statistics of matters that form part of the backlog in court and have data confirming that Legal Aid SA cases are finalised timeously. In fact, most of the backlog cases are sitting with private practitioners. Legal Aid SA actively participates in all case-flow management meetings, ultimately giving us an opportunity to deal with blockages timeously and efficiently. It is at these case flow meetings with different legal stakeholders that delays and concerns are discussed, with individual stakeholders held accountable for any bottlenecks they have caused.

 

KG: Another delegate acknowledged the possibility that matters handled by private legal practitioners do not take as long to be heard in court. However, the delegate blamed it on the capacity of Legal Aid SA, saying that they do not have enough legal practitioners, and they have an overload of work. Do you think Legal Aid SA is overstretched and in need of increased capacity?

MK: Legal Aid SA assists all members of the public who qualify for legal aid and are represented in all South African courts. We have a practitioner per court model which sees a dedicated legal practitioner assigned to every criminal court within the available budget. Legal Aid SA is not in a position to increase capacity in the busiest courts due to the National Treasury’s mandatory budget cuts.

 

KG: What do you think about the general perception in society that legal aid practitioners are not as skilled as private legal practitioners, and how can one fix this misconception?

MK: I disagree with this perception. A Statistics South Africa report released in August 2019 on ‘Governance, Public Safety and Justice Survey’ found that members of the public who were represented by Legal Aid SA practitioners had the highest level of satisfaction with the service received, at 89%.

Having experienced both private practice and Legal Aid SA, I can confidently state that Legal Aid SA practitioners are just as, if not more skilled. The organisation is committed to training and mentorship, ensuring ongoing skills development. The electronic libraries available to Legal Aid SA practitioners are high quality and the technological advancements and systems we have in place are comparable to those used in the private sector. Our practitioners are professional, experienced, and well-equipped to fulfil our mandate of ensuring access to justice for all.

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

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2024 (April) DR 25.

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