Honouring a stalwart of the Black Lawyers Association

May 1st, 2022

By Isabel Joubert

The Black Lawyers Association National Executive Committee (BLA NEC) met with the Mkele family, in Alberton, Johannesburg on 8 April 2022 to honour Ms Desiree Finca. Ms Finca was the first black female admitted attorney in South Africa (SA).

The Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA’s) President and the BLA Deputy President, Mabaeng Lenyai, thanked the Mkele family for allowing the BLA NEC into their home. Ms Lenyai said that it was an honour to be in Ms Finca’s presence as one of the oldest living BLA members, who was also one of Mr Godfrey Pitje’s – one of the founding fathers of the BLA – candidate attorneys. She said that the BLA is very proud because Ms Finca is a stalwart and achieved so much under such difficult circumstances. Ms Lenyai added: ‘Because of your sacrifices, we today, are standing on your shoulders and are here today to say siyabonga – thank you very much, you are our inspiration, we look up to you and are very proud to call you our own.’

Ms Lenyai said that with the permission of the family the BLA would like to honour Ms Finca in August, at the recently formed Women’s Forum event so that the world knows who Ms Finca is and what she has achieved. Ms Lenyai said: ‘We have no excuse but to succeed, with someone like you as our inspiration.’

The President of the BLA, Bayethe Maswazi, started his speech by saying that the BLA is there to rekindle the flames that spurred Ms Finca and many others to join the legal profession and take the road less travelled. He continued by adding that Ms Finca had to face patriarchy, the BLA wants to rekindle Ms Finca’s story so that young black females growing up all over the country are inspired by the story and can also decide to walk the path of joining the legal profession as it was paved with the hard work of Ms Finca. ‘We are here to rekindle the legacy of the BLA and to walk the steps that you have walked with our grandfather, [Godfrey] Mokgonane Pitje, and many others who pioneered the work of the profession,’ Mr Maswazi said.

The BLA NEC with Ms Finca.
Back row: University of Witwatersrand Black Lawyers Association (BLA) Student Chapter Chairperson, Tshepahalo Masakoana; Head of Legal Education and Research of the BLA, Vumani Mthembu; President of the Law Society of South Africa and Deputy President of the BLA, Mabaeng Lenyai; General Secretary of the BLA, Charlotte Mahlatji; Treasurer of the BLA, Noveni Kubayi and President of the BLA, Bayethe Maswazi.
Front row: Head of Events and Campaigns of the BLA, Maboku Mangena; Deputy Secretary General of the BLA, Ncumisa Sotenjwa; Ms Desiree Finca; BLA Student Chapter: President, Shandukani Mudau; and BLA Administrator, Judith Mabelane.

Mr Maswazi told Ms Finca that the profession is changing as many women have followed in her footsteps even though there are still many issues that are being grappled with. Mr Maswazi said he hopes Ms Finca can receive the BLA again when all the issues have been sorted out. He said, ‘We are in a profession where women can stand up fearlessly and be able to claim it as theirs too.’

Mr Maswazi told Ms Finca that they know the scars she had to carry in order to live and survive in a profession existing in a colonial and Apartheid environment. Mr Maswazi thanked Ms Finca for allowing the BLA NEC to spend time with one so noble because to them she is the hero who stood up in the legal profession and made it possible for the woman who are sitting in the room with her today to practise law. Mr Maswazi quoted late President Nelson Mandela who said, ‘The sun shall never set on so glorious an achievement’ and said that the wish is that the sun never sets on Ms Finca’s achievement. Mr Maswazi finished his address by thanking Ms Finca for being who she is.

Ms Finca’s daughter, Pumla Mkele, introduced the family to the BLA and gave a brief history of the family. She explained that Ms Finca practiced law as Desiree Finca but the family name is Mkele. She mentioned that Ms Finca’s grandchildren followed in their grandfather’s footsteps as writers as Mr Finca wrote for Drum magazine. Ms Mkele thanked the BLA for coming into their home to honour her mother as she said many people are forgotten when they get old. Ms Mkele said Ms Finca helped her children and grandchildren to become the people they are today and to follow their dreams.

President of the Law Society of South Africa and Deputy President of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), Mabaeng Lenyai; Ms Desiree Finca and President of the BLA, Bayethe Maswazi.

Ms Lenyai was asked to speak on behalf of Ms Finca. Ms Lenyai said that Ms Finca wants everyone to treat their life as a new book, ‘open it every day and write something new, something that will empower yourself and empower those who come after you’. Ms Lenyai said not to do things just to gain benefit from it, the legacy that one leaves behind should always be thought of. She went on to say that leaving a legacy does not have to be left after death, Ms Finca is alive and has left a great legacy to be followed and draw inspiration from. Ms Lenyai said that young women of today have forgotten that they are the flowers of the world, they need to dress up, look the part and own their space. She said Ms Finca is still here, looking the part and still inspiring. Ms Lenyai said people should see themselves as a brand as everything one does will have an impact on others. Ms Lenyai went on to say that one should aspire to be like Ms Finca so that maybe one-day people may too come knocking at your door as the BLA came to Ms Finca’s door to honour her.

Mr Maboku Mangena was called on to present Ms Finca with gifts on behalf of the BLA NEC.

Isabel Joubert BIS Publishing (Hons) (UP) is the sub-editor at De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2022 (May) DR 9.

De Rebus