The BLA exists to change society

December 1st, 2023
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The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) held its gala dinner and Annual General Meeting (AGM), in Cape Town on 17 and 18 November 2023 under the theme, ‘Reflections on the five years of the transformed legal profession. Pondering on the future.’ The itinerary started on the morning of 17 November with an outreach programme by the BLA, where they visited the Atlantis School of Skills, to donate furniture and sewing material to the school. The BLA National Executive Committee (NEC) members together with the provincial NEC members and other members from different BLA branches, were met by the leadership of the school. The principal of the school expressed gratitude to the BLA for their generosity and kind gesture. While giving the BLA members a tour, he explained that the biggest challenge that they have as the school is buying material, as it is expensive. He explained that they use material, such as foam, for making ottomans, couches, and headboards.

President of the Black Lawyers Association, Bayethe Maswazi, giving is opening remarks at the organisation’s AGM in Cape Town.

The principal said that after making the products at school, the learners are able to take some of the items and sell them so that they can make some money. But the biggest win is the fact that after leaving the school, learners are equipped with skills that can help them start a business. He gave an example of an upholstery business and added that learners also learn how to spray paint cars, build wall units and learn how to use other recycled materials, such as cans, to make furniture. The learners are also trained to be beauticians, they get to work with hair, do makeup, nails and massages.

During the evening at the gala dinner the President of the BLA, Bayethe Maswazi, in his address, said that it is important to remember that a revolution is a moral act and yet requires clarity of thought, clarity of conscience and adeptness of character. He added that members must be pure in their conscience, so that they are pure in the actions they undertake as cadres that call themselves a detachment involved in the sacred responsibility of liberating themselves. He pointed out that the BLA exists to change society. ‘We must all as the members of the BLA be catalyst of that change,’ Mr Maswazi added.

Messages of support

Secretary General of the South African Women Lawyers Association, Mpho Kgabi spoke at the Black Lawyers Association’s gala dinner.

In their message of support Secretary General of the South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA), Mpho Kgabi said that SAWLA would like to see BLA growing from strength to strength. ‘We can see that BLA is building black lawyers. I can see that BLA is having more women. I am happy and sure that in future we will have more leadership of women in the BLA,’ Ms Kgabi added.

The Secretary General of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL), Nolitha Jali, quoted the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (LPA). Ms Jali said that the Legal Practice Council (LPC) has been established: ‘To provide a legislative framework for the transformation and restructuring of the legal profession in line with constitutional imperatives so as to facilitate and enhance an independent legal profession that broadly reflects the diversity and demographics of the Republic.’

Secretary General of the National Association, of Democratic Lawyers, Nolitha Jali, delivered a message of support to the Black Lawyers Association.

She described the LPA and the Council on Higher Education’s Qualification Standard for Bachelor of Laws, 2015 as visions that emanate from consultative process of the Justice Vision 2000 in which legal practitioners directly or indirectly, contributed. ‘They articulate the progressive views and aspiration of the profession, especially those who were previously denied access to the legal profession but were left out of the process of developing law and were treated as mere subjects which law was to govern and enslave.’

Ms Jali told delegates that they must take the lesson from the failures of the majority of African state leaders, who despite good intentions, failed to complete their respective liberation agendas because of greed, division, and selfish ambitions of those they called comrades. ‘They failed because of third forces who operated within their respective cultures who benefited and continue to benefit from Africa’s resources,’ Ms Jali added. ‘Comrades let us unite, urgently. Let us not give up on thinking and fighting or history will soon tire of us and condemn us, perhaps more harshly than those who had oppressed us. Do not tolerate division amongst yourselves, deal harshly with them who seek to plough discord. Remember the enemies of transformation are alive, they are powerful, well-resourced and are united in their goal of maintaining the status quo,’ Ms Jali said.

Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, Janine Myburgh, delivered a message of support to the Black Lawyers Association.

The Chairperson of the LPC, Janine Myburgh, in her message of support said that South Africa (SA) has not yet reached a transformed legal profession. She pointed out that the enactment of the LPA has started the profession on the path of its transformation in line with the demographics of the country in order to respond properly to the needs of all the people of SA. She added that the main challenge the legal profession has, is to ensure that the profession is fully representative of the diversity of the South African society, and to make the legal profession more accessible to the public. Ms Myburgh pointed that the LPA has 12 objectives that the Council of the LPC have to adhere to. Among the 12 objectives, she said one is in s 5 of the LPA, which is to ‘facilitate the realisation of the goal of a transformed and restructured legal profession that is accountable, efficient and independent.’

Ms Myburgh said that she can categorically confirm that the LPC is committed and continues to ensure the realisation of this objective. She added that the LPC is taking bold steps to transform the legal profession, she pointed out that currently the LPC is looking at the matter with regards to silk status for legal practitioners. ‘We received much criticism from certain sectors in the legal profession regarding our stint in this and as the LPC we continue to ensure that we promote the access to the legal profession in pursuit of the legal profession that broadly represents the demographics of the Republic’, Ms Myburgh said.

The President of the Law Society of South Africa, Eunice Masipa, gave a  message of support at the Black Lawyers Association’s gala dinner prior to the organisation’s annual general meeting.

The President of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Eunice Masipa, said the LSSA stands as a united force with the BLA, advocating for pursuit of a transformed legal profession. ‘Our collective goal is to contribute to the realisation of a South Africa that fosters transformation, equity, and justice within the legal system. I am acutely aware that these aspirations are shared by progressive lawyers who recognise the noble objectives set forth by the BLA,’ Ms Masipa added.

Ms Masipa pointed out that the theme of the BLA conference, ‘Reflections on the five years of the transformed legal profession: Pondering on the future,’ could not be timelier. She said it is incumbent on legal practitioners to introspect and inquire: Have we done enough to bring about the transformation we aspire to see in the legal profession? She pointed out that organisations such as the LSSA and the BLA bear the responsibility of actively contributing to and facilitating this change. ‘To chart a course toward a more promising future, we must collectively reimagine the landscape of our profession’, she added.

Ms Masipa noted: ‘When we reconvene in five years to reflect on our progress, it is my hope that we can provide a resounding affirmative to the question of whether we have played our part in transforming the legal profession. Our actions today should be geared toward passing a baton of progress and inclusion to the legal practitioners of tomorrow, ensuring that they inherit a profession that is not only transformed but also genuinely inclusive.’

Ms Masipa added that the diversity within the LSSA is not a hindrance but a source of strength. Ms Masipa pointed out that the BLA serves as a beacon of inspiration, reminding legal practitioners of their ability to unite in the face of any challenge. ‘Together, we share a common purpose that transcends our individual differences. Let us support one another in this collective endeavour to be better, stronger, and more unified. … I wish you well and stand in solidarity with the decisions that shape the trajectory of our shared pursuit for a transformed and just legal profession,’ Ms Masipa added.

Constitutional Court Justice, Mbuyiseli Madlanga spoke at the Black Lawyers Association’s gala dinner on 17 November 2023.

In his address to delegates attending the BLA dinner, Constitutional Court Judge, Mbuyiseli Madlanga said that he is bothered by the fact that some law graduates were going to sit at home and not become the legal practitioners that they have aspired to be. He pointed out that this is an issue that cuts deep within him. He added that at his previous engagement with NADEL members he mentioned that it pains him that he had no answers for this worrisome issue. He added that he did not want to claim that he has ready solutions but asked the delegates to engage with the subject.

Judge Madlanga challenged delegates to explore possibilities and said as practising legal practitioners they are solution driven, as they take on causes of the members of the public daily. He said in good conscious legal practitioners can only take on causes when they truly believe there is a possible solution. ‘You may only pursue hopeless causes if your clients insist, but from your side you must make it clear to the client what the view of their cause is. And you must do the latter, exactly because yours is a solution driven enterprise. And your client must know when you think there is no solution,’ Judge Madlanga added.

Judge Madlanga said that with regard to the high unemployment of law graduates, delegates will need to know how, if at all, it had anything to do with the LPA. Judge Madlanga said one of the main aims of the LPA is the transformation of the legal profession. As an example he referred to s 5(a) of the LPA, and said it seemed to him that as far as the law graduate is concerned, the relevance of the LPA is that once law graduates have somehow managed to bring themselves within the entry point of the legal practice, which is either articles or pupillage, it is only at that point that the law graduates truly become the LPA’s problem. But before that the law graduate is as good as an entity somewhere in the dark recesses.

Judge Madlanga said that for decades it has always been difficult to find articles of clerkship. He added that being accommodated for pupillage used to be better. He added in recent times it has come to the point where it becomes more and more difficult to find pupillage. He pointed out that he did not need data to prove that it is black law graduates who do not get accepted at this entry level. He added that also within that category it is the most disadvantaged that are affected. ‘I say so because largely, the poorest of the poor matriculants obtain their law degree from the historically disadvantaged universities, marginalisation starts right there,’ he said.

The Black Lawyers Association’s Limpopo Branch was awarded with the most outstanding branch award at the organisation’s gala dinner. This was for their consistent growth  demonstrated by their participation at BLA activities and exceptional contribution to the legal profession at large.

Judge Madlanga said graduates of the University of Limpopo; Walter Sisulu University; and the University of Fort Hare, etcetera, are less likely to find articles of clerkship at the ‘so called’ big five law firms and other large firms. He added that the reality is that as a group, it is those law firms that have the largest capacity to take all the candidate attorneys. ‘It guts me that the unfortunate painful happenstance of being born in poverty should be a determinant of the trajectory of your professional life. I must not be misunderstood. Many are born in poverty graduate from these historically disadvantage universities, make it into these large law firms and go on to be prominent legal practitioners. Others still get their articles from small, sometimes one practitioner’s law firm and rise to become legal practitioners of whom we are proud today.’

Judge Madlanga said that the reality is that the vast majority of those who come from disadvantaged communities, are those likely not to find articles of clerkship or pupillage. He added there is talk about transformation, which he mentioned as one of the aims of the LPA. He said surely the target group should be those disadvantaged, marginalised, those who feel on a daily basis how painful it is to live on the periphery. He pointed out that for them there is no full realisation of the fruits of SA’s constitutional democracy. Judge Madlanga said that if the LPA does not work to some distance towards alleviating the plight of this category of law graduates, then it has failed in its quest to transform the legal practice landscape.

Judge Madlanga noted that true transformation seeks to bring from the periphery those who are disadvantaged to the mainstream. He said it seeks to change the bleak lives of the disadvantaged and make a promise of freedom and equality a reality for them too. He added that it seeks to make them feel that they belong to the democratic SA. He pointed out that what has been achieved in this section has not been able to assist the majority of those in need. He challenged BLA and other organisations, such as NADEL, to come up with a solution that will address training needs under the LPA, but also to satisfy the needs of society.

The Black Lawyers Association’s KwaZulu-Natal Branch was given an award at the organisation’s gala dinner as the most promising branch for their concerted efforts to be better, steady but consistent growth, their diligence and contribution to the black legal profession at large.

The AGM

Legal Ombudsman Judge
Siraj Desai addressed delegates at Black Lawyers Association AGM.

At the AGM the Legal Services Ombud, Judge Siraj Desai, passed his message of support to the BLA. He said that when the LPA was born, he was a part of the debate, and the debate was not simply, in the ordinary sense of the word, merging the attorneys and advocates profession. He pointed out that was one side of the coin. He noted that the other and the most important part of the coin was to break the strangle the grey suited men had on both professions, especially the advocates.

Judge Desai said the advent of the LPA has introduced a new legal order in this country. He pointed out that the Bar Council is equivalent to the BLA and NADEL, as they are all non-statutory bodies. He said in the sense the profession has begun to achieve what it intended to do, which is to begin the process of the new legal order for the country. ‘We never broke the stranglehold of the economic power in this country and the legal profession falls within that category of power that one had to bring to dismantle. I must say as a tribute to my principal and old friend and comrade Dullah Omar, he had a vision when we debated the LPA to introduce the improvised position of the Act,’ Judge Desai said.

Judge Desai pointed out that it is not simply the context of what the LPC is doing but the thriving of the people of this country that is important, signalling that the process of dismantling an old legal order has begun. He pointed out that it is still a long way to go but the process has begun, since the dawn of democracy in SA.

Former President of the Black
Lawyers Association, Mashudu Kutama spoke at the organisation’s AGM.

During the panel discussion, former President of the BLA Mashudu Kutama said that the Constitution of SA recognises the past injustice, however, the LPA does not do the same. He added that when the LPA was drafted it was drafted as if the legal profession does not have a past. He said that the LPA does not recognise that black legal practitioners were not allowed in court and were oppressed. He pointed out that the BLA advocated for fusion of the legal profession, however, this did not happen.

Mr Kutama said the LPC rules by directives and decrees, and that the fact that the LPC does not have an AGM is an issue. He asked what kind of organisation does not engage with its own members. He added that when he raised the issue, he was told that LPC will issue directives. ‘We do not have a platform to engage the LPC,’ Mr Kutama added.

Member of the Legal Practice Council, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu.

Council member of the LPC, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu said that the LPC is a negotiated settlement and acknowledges that it is not the result that the BLA wanted. She pointed out that when she says it is a negotiated settlement there was a time where, she, and the late Lutendo Sigogo and Mr Kutama had to walk out of a meeting, because it was a tough negotiation. She added that the National Forum ushered in the LPC. She said that one of the things they had to do was to restructure the legal profession and take the provincial law societies, and the GCB had to be on board with the changes. Ms Matolo-Dlepu said they had to start by establishing provincial offices of LPC, fund the LSSA, and appoint a CEO for the LPC.

Ms Matolo-Dlepu added that the LPC had to establish committees, and among others the committees are namely –

  • Management Committee;
  • Professional Affairs Committee;
  • Transformation Committee;
  • Risk Committee; and
  • Legal Education Committee, etcetera.

Ms Matolo-Dlepu added that they then had to look at the LPA and the Code of Conduct as to what to remove and what to keep. ‘It took us almost a year to try and negotiate. To revamp the education. To make sure that we have standardised the education even if we are not there. We wanted to make sure that we have an exam that will be an LPC exam,’ Ms Matolo-Dlepu said. She pointed out that unfortunately the GBC still has its own exam. She said that if people want to be subjected to a second exam, that is their own problem, because the LPC exam is the only one that will get one to be enrolled as a legal practitioner. Ms Matolo-Dlepu pointed out that the frustrating part is that the LPC wanted one and the same exam for candidate legal practitioners and then after that exam, they would choose whether they want to be an advocate or attorney. She said the modules should have been the same, then towards the end one would have selective modules.

Court Justice, Judge
Mbuyiseli Madlanga and
Legal Ombudsma Judge Siraj Desai at the Black Lawyers Association’s annual general meeting.

Ms Matolo-Dlepu pointed out that one of the issues worrying her is the issue of ethics. She said that the profession has lost the standard with regard to ethics. She added that although people worry about being struck off the roll, ethics have declined. ‘We are being attacked every day because people think lawyers are thieves, which is not true, because only a pocket of those people are. But we can’t be proud to say that. We are supposed to protect the public,’ Ms Matolo- Dlepu added.

Ms Matolo-Dlepu further shared some of the other things that the LPC has done since its inception. She also encouraged the BLA that they are well represented in structures, such as the LPC.

Former BLA President and Council member and Chairperson of the LPC Legal Education, Standard and Accreditation Committee, Busani Mabunda for his presentation started by quoting the Dalai Lama: ‘Share your knowledge. It is a way to achieve immortality,’ and ‘when educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.’ Mr Mabunda said that there are definite strides that the LPC is making with the plethora of issues Mr Kutama raised.

Mr Mabunda said speaking as the chair of the Legal Education, Standard and Accreditation Committee, it is indeed true that there are inherent problems, which are afflicting candidates who sit for exams, with respect to ethics. He pointed out that he is giving his absolute assurance that the LPC is seriously looking at those issues. Mr Mabunda encouraged the members of the BLA and members of the legal profession in general to go and read about the endeavour the LPC is taking to transform legal education. ‘We are aligning ourselves with the new order.’

Former Black Lawyers Association President and Council member and Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council’s Legal Education, Standard and Accreditation Committee,
Busani Mabunda was one of the speakers at the organisations annual
general meeting.

Mr Mabunda added that vocational training should be about vocational training of people who aspire to be legal practitioners, either as attorneys or as advocates. He shared some of the aspects that he said the LPC aligns to the objective of LPA relating to transformation and legal education, which are found in s 5 of the LPA. He said that engaging with any educational institution, which has the department, school, or faculty of law to discuss issues to the curriculum and how it responds to the needs of the legal profession. He pointed out that this is equally one of the important issues, which is extremely helpful. He said that to that end among the stakeholders that the LPC have been engaging with is the South African Law Deans’ Association.

Mr Mabunda pointed out that there were some problems before, however, the LPC and the Law Deans are substantially finding common ground and bringing synergy with respect of what has been taught at university level and how it can be helpful for law graduates, so that the law graduates do not see things, such as a summons for the very first time when they are doing their articles of clerkship or pupillage.

The Solicitor-General, Fhedzisani Pandelani said the Office of the Solicitor-General is a creature of statute and can only do what it is intended to do according to legislation. He added that his office in the pecking order was the first piece of legislation, namely the State Attorney Amendment Act 13 of 2014. He said then it was followed by the LPC. And the last critical Act was the Legal Aid South Africa Act 39 of 2014. He pointed out that the State Attorney Amendment Act was deferred for seven years, because there were people with vested interests that did not want that piece of legislation to be proclaimed without being amended.

Mr Pandelani said that even the LPC was contested for two years and there is one common denominator which is the GCB. ‘We had our own advocates internally; the GCB imploded them and said you cannot actually have advocates operating within the states we won’t recognise them, and that project was in fact stopped because the GCB interfered with that project.’ Mr Pandelani added that they have been imploded for seven years and for 66 years there have not been any transformative agenda that sought to empower legal practitioners. He said when the BLA was formed in 1977, it had been 21 years and black legal practitioners were never recognised.

The Solicitor-General,
Fhedzisani Pandelani spoke at
the Black Lawyers Association’s
Annual General Meeting.

Mr Pandelani said the State Attorney Act 56 of 1957 commenced in 1957. He pointed out that no black legal practitioner has ever been briefed to deal with that work for all those years. He added that then came the piece of legislation that formed the Office of the Solicitor-General. He said it had as its dominant intention, the change of the landscape. Section 3(4) essentially said ‘we know no better on how we can in fact transform this landscape. Please come up with policies that will enable us to deal with the challenges that we have.’ He said the section was instructive in nature and reached out to the legal profession.

Mr Pandelani said they have done 28 stakeholder consultations with the legal profession. He added that when the organised profession was resisting, the Solicitor-General went through the LPC, which sent out letters to members of the legal profession calling for stakeholder engagements. He pointed out that they developed policies, the first policy said management and coordination of all litigation in which the state is involved. The second one was state legal cover; the third was early settlement matters. He, however, pointed out that he does not have the resources to deal with early settlement matters. He said as it stands, he only has 306 legal practitioners with 370 000 active matters. He pointed out that it is an unhealthy state that such a small number of legal practitioners working on a huge number of matters, adding that the state could collapse. Mr Pandelani pointed out that he needs the assistance of legal practitioners. He told members of the BLA that he needed their help.

BLA elections

The BLA elections for the new NEC did not take place, a date for elections will be announced to members in due course.

 

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

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2023 (Dec) DR 14.

 

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