Silas Nkanunu described as a humanitarian activist

December 17th, 2020

In 2016 the United Cricket Club together with the Law Society of South Africa held a dinner to honour National Democratic Lawyers Association (NADEL) honorary member, Silas Nkanunu. The dinner was also held to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the United Cricket Club. From left: Mayor of Port Elizabeth, Danny Jordaan; NADEL honorary member, Silas Nkanunu; and Judge in the Western Cape High Court, Vincent Saldanha.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) held a memorial for the late Silas Nkanunu on 16 November 2020.

The Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council (LPC), Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, in her tribute said that Mr Nkanunu lived a full life and his spirit would live on in the generation of legal practitioners to come. She added that the fact that he is recognised as the longest serving President of NADEL, speaks to the kind of person he was. ‘I was privileged to have met him and privileged to have served with him in one of the structures,’ Ms Matolo-Dlepu said.

Ms Matolo-Dlepu added that Mr Nkanunu, shared his knowledge and expertise in different sectors, including human rights, sport and religion wherein he played a leadership role. She pointed out that Mr Nkanunu always made himself available when called on by the legal profession to assist in guiding the agenda of transformation. She said that Mr Nkanunu was passionate about the transformation of the legal profession.

‘I am happy to inform the members who are here today that we are going to ensure the fundamental transformation and restructuring of the legal profession in line with the constitutional imperatives and to broaden access to justice in South Africa,’ Ms Matolo-Dlepu said. She added that the LPC wants to ensure that it removes any unnecessary burdens that have been experienced by people, such as Mr Nkanunu experienced, for entry to the legal profession, and also by strengthening the independence of the legal profession to ensure that there is accountability of the profession to the public.

Law Society of South Africa’s (LSSA) House of Constituents’ member, Ettienne Barnard, said Mr Nkanunu made an impact on so many levels. He pointed out that the first level was in the South African society. He said that Mr Nkanunu contributed to society as a legal practitioner for human rights. He added that he was nominated by the legal profession to serve on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). He noted that Mr Nkanunu was instrumental in the negotiations of the birth of the LSSA and in 1998 he was one of the six signatories of the LSSA constitution, in terms of which, the LSSA became the national coordinating body for the provincial regulators.

Mr Barnard pointed out that Mr Nkanunu was a soft spoken but a no-nonsense chairperson in one of the roles he played at the LSSA. He added that things went smoothly because of his accommodating nature. He prevented speakers from repeating themselves and conducted the agenda efficiently. He said even when the LSSA was debating its transformation from coordinating the regulator coordinator body to a representative organisation, Mr Nkanunu said that the legal practitioners should be treated with more dignity.

In his tribute, founding member of NADEL, Dr Henry Lerm, said Mr Nkanunu was known to all, and as the media reported, a ‘good man.’ He added that although he had passed on, he would remain a legendary figure for time to come.

Founding member of NADEL, Roland Meyer, said that Mr Nkanunu was a humanitarian activist. He added that Mr Nkanunu and other founding members of NADEL, instilled a vision, a path, which led to a democratic state, a non-racial society, and a society based on the rule of law. He pointed out that the views of the founding members were that they were first and foremost members of the community, not distinct from the community, but part of the community. He said that Mr Nkanunu encouraged them that when one leads, they should lead from the front.

Another founding member of NADEL, Krish Govender, said he is grateful for all the contributions that Mr Nkanunu made, a commitment to life, in which he made sacrifices without any rewards, for him to pass as quietly as he did, did not play out as it should have and the recognition he ought to have received, especially from those who are in government today. He added that he was thankful for all the work that Mr Nkanunu had done and the legacy he left behind. ‘We owe him a great deal to continue along the same path,’ Mr Govender said.

President of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), Justice Mandisa Maya, said 2020 has been an extremely difficult year and just as one thought it could not get worse, Mr Nkanunu’s passing struck. She described Mr Nkanunu as a great South African who was admired by those he touched. A patriot and hero in the legal profession, the sporting world and in his community. She added that Mr Nkanunu was the embodiment of a sadly dead era of dignity, decency, honour, principle and honest hard work. He had humility and the curtesy to have concern for others and services for no personal reward to one’s community.

Justice Maya added that Mr Nkanunu was a trailblazer in the most difficult time in SA’s history for a black person to be a legal practitioner, and that using the law as a tool to achieve justice was possible. She said his positive influence did not end there, he went on to play a crucial role in ensuring that black women and men got an opportunity to meaningfully participate in the administration of justice in their own country. That the standard of the legal practice was improved, and that the judiciary is transformed as intended by the founding fathers and mothers.

Justice Maya said: ‘I am proud to say that I, like many others am a product of his unapologetic efforts to transform the judiciary. He was a member of the JSC and its short-listing committee both when I was appointed as a High Court judge and later as the first black woman judge of the Supreme Court of Appeal. And he supported a young and inexperienced woman in a male dominated field, because he believed that I had the potential to become a competent judge.’ She concluded by thanking the Nkanunu family, for sharing Mr Nkanunu with South Africa (SA).

Deputy Minister of Justice, John Jeffery, also spoke at the memorial for Mr Nkanunu. He said that Mr Nkanunu cleared a path for many to follow in so many roles. He pointed out that Mr Nkanunu’s hometown, Mqanduli, was named after a nearby hill where he was born, the name of his hometown means grindstone-maker. He said that if there was one person who knew about the grindstone, putting one’s shoulder to the wheel, a person who knew all about hard work and determination it was Mr Nkanunu.

Mr Jeffery added that grindstone is used for the grinding or shaping of something. He pointed out that Mr Nkanunu would become a man who would shape or smooth even the toughest situations. He said when one mentions the name Silas Nkanunu many would think of rugby, and his immense contribution to the sport and its transformation. But for legal practitioners his contribution to the legal profession was immense. He pointed out that as one of the founders of NADEL, Mr Nkanunu played a very instrumental role in advancing black and women legal practitioners and creating a legal profession that represents the demographics of SA.

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