The hope of society lies on the shoulders of progressive legal practitioners

February 1st, 2022

Eastern Cape Division, Judge President, Selby Mbenenge, welcomed delegates of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers in his province, at the organisations conference that was held in Port Elizabeth on 3 December 2021.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) held its National Conference and Annual General Meeting (AGM) on 3 and 4 December 2021 in Port Elizabeth. The conference was held under the theme ‘Much vigour needed to create a future very different from our past.’ Delegates were welcomed to the conference by the Judge President of the Eastern Cape Division, Justice Selby Mbenenge.

The legal profession has had to face many challenges

President of the Law Society of South Africa, Jan van Rensburg, delivered a message of support at the 2021 conference of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers.

President of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Jan van Rensburg, conveyed a message of support to NADEL at the National Conference and AGM. In his remarks, Mr van Rensburg, shared his personal experience on how he interacted with various legal practitioners in the various roles he has held over the years. He pointed out that by sharing his journey, he wanted to make a point that one can win a war by force, but every battlefield can leave people disillusioned with scars and pain. He said that so much can be achieved by hard work (excellence always pays off), respect, patience, a friendly and positive attitude, and integrity. He added that this achieves much more than aggression and force and the results gained in this way are of a permanent nature.

Mr van Rensburg pointed out that the past two years have not been easy, the legal profession has had to face many challenges, and the LSSA is working hard with its constituents to address and minimise the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on legal practitioners. ‘We are well-aware of the fact that many of our members are under great financial pressure and there have been measures put in place to support them, I am also grateful to the LPC [Legal Practice Council (LPC)] for their assistance in this regard,’ Mr van Rensburg added. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the LSSA’s timelines to finalise the establishment of its Provincial Societies, however, the LSSA is still hopeful that they will be in place by the next AGM. He expressed his appreciation on behalf of the LSSA to the leadership of NADEL and all the members of NADEL who serve on the various committees and structures of the LSSA. ‘Your contributions are invaluable and a great benefit to our profession. You are certainly helping to achieve a future very different from the past,’ Mr van Rensburg added.

Effort and enthusiasm in the profession

Chairperson of the Legal Practice Council, Janine Myburgh, spoke on the effort and enthusiasm needed in the profession to address the many challenges faced within the legal sector at the National Association of Democratic Lawyers conference.

The newly elected Chairperson of the LPC, Janine Myburgh, said for the many years NADEL has been in existence, it remains one of the major pillars of the legal profession and its resilience, power and relevance has been an inspiration. She added that the LPC respects and appreciates NADEL’s role as a key stakeholder in the legal profession. She noted the word ‘vigour’ in the theme of the conference as it emphasises the much-needed effort and enthusiasm in the profession. She said one may even take it further and bring in words such as drive, passion, and determination. She added that with her the theme resonates that something much bigger is needed to address the many challenges within the legal sector. ‘I believe that much vigour is required to fasten the collaborations that will take us all to the future that is different from our past. I believe that it is through vigour that challenges, and obstacles can be addressed for the good of the entire profession as well as the public,’ Ms Myburgh said.

Ms Myburgh added that as the newly appointed chair of the LPC, she wanted to assure legal practitioners that the members of the LPC Council are competent and driven individuals who are all filled with vigour, drive, passion, and determination to build a greater future for the legal profession, the public and to ensure that they regulate and make sure the profession has a different future. ‘The LPC looks forward to continuing frank engagements with NADEL and I hope through my presence here on behalf of the LPC it is accepted as a sign of our commitment to transparent and open interactions with you, as a critical stakeholder in the legal profession,’ Ms Myburgh added.

Transformation is a revolutionary agenda

President of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers, Mvuzo Notyesi, gave his presidential report at the organisations 2021 conference in Port Elizabeth.

While giving his presidential report at the AGM, the President of NADEL, Mvuzo Notyesi, said at the 2018 and 2019 NADEL AGM’s, delegates of NADEL gathered with a sole determination to shape and direct the organisation towards the fulfilment of the struggle objectives. The delegates are aware and conscious of the fact that they are in a long walk to their true freedom and total liberation, which the founding fathers sacrificed so much for. He added that in the revolution the only demand is freedom and total liberation. The struggle for liberation is love for everything, love for land, love for culture, justice, dignity, economic reform, freedom, sharing of wealth and universal freedom.

Mr Notyesi pointed out that many people have lost loved ones and their lives have suddenly changed due to the pandemic. He added that the transformation of South Africa (SA) is under serious threat. He pointed out that there is a growing populist narrative and constant emergence of groups that manipulate the policies of transforming the country, such as gender transformation and employment transformation. He pointed out that nowadays there are some colleagues who demand positions just because they are black or female and claim they are a part of transformation. Mr Notyesi said the legal profession must be vigilant of such people, that transformation is a revolutionary agenda and not an incident of self-possessed entitlement. ‘We need characters of selfless and humble citizens,’ Mr Notyesi added.

Mr Notyesi pointed out that NADEL is still in pain from the loss of one of its own, Judge Patrick Jaji. He described Judge Jaji as a visionary who had great ideas for society and was concerned about issues affecting society. He also mentioned the passing of another prominent member of NADEL who was based in the Pretoria branch, Ms Esetu Mbananga, whom he described as an activist. Mr Notyesi spoke about the recent national elections that were held, which reflected a no voter turnout in most parts of the country. He added that there is another pandemic in SA called corruption, and allegations of state capture do not disappear. He added that recent judgments from courts have been publicly debated and that it is understandable. He, however, said if the debates are about perceived lack of the independence of the judiciary and fairness in adjudication that calls for a real concern.

Mr Notyesi said progressive legal practitioners must ask the question: What should they do? He pointed out that the judiciary is the last line of defence in a constitutional democracy and that there must never be a suspicion that the judiciary is captured. ‘We remain concerned about the delay of the delivery of judgments, particularly from the Constitutional Court. The recent cases involving former President Zuma, were all brought on an urgent basis only for judges to excessively delay it,’ Mr Notyesi said. He pointed out that this has put the country under stress, and it was a concern of every citizen that the Constitutional Court allowed a contempt of court proceedings to be directly filed to the court when the commission ought to have approached the police to deal with that matter.

Mr Notyesi pointed out that these are matters that should concern NADEL members and progressive legal practitioners. He added that the jurisprudence of SA must be well settled, and all cases must receive the same treatment. He said the law is not meant for certain classes. He pointed out that the level of unemployment, inequality and human suffering is almost a norm, and these injustices need to be addressed. He said one of the undertakings by the founders of NADEL was to build a truly transformed SA in which all citizens enjoy universal freedom and equality, however, it appears to slowly become a dream deferred. Mr Notyesi added that the generation of today should fulfil the sacrifice of those who fought before them. He added that members of NADEL and other progressive legal practitioners should hold leaders accountable and that the hope of society lies with members of NADEL and other progressive legal practitioners.

Mr Notyesi said that the country is searching to fill the vacancy for a new Chief Justice and added that the appointment of the Chief Justice is one of the most important appointments. He said the Chief Justice – as head of the judiciary – must intellectually lead, unite, and maintain the independence of the judiciary, and must adjudicate societal dispute. He pointed out that if allegations of a captured judiciary are made on social media, those allegations are a threat to the constitutional democracy. ‘We need a judiciary that enjoys the confidence of the masses,’ Mr Notyesi said. He added that NADEL demands that those who are tasked with the final selection of a Chief Justice, should appoint an intellectual Chief Justice, who will lead the judiciary through judgment writings and an unflinching integrity.

Mr Notyesi also spoke about the recent elections of the LPC and said that the result shows the domination of the big law firms. He added that there is fear that this may lead to the resurgence of some conservatives. ‘Although in these elections we are happy that more women that were elected are seasoned members of the profession,’ Mr Notyesi added. He pointed out that NADEL is also pleased that its Secretory General, Nolitha Jali, is also retained in the LPC. He, however, said NADEL needs to look at whether its alliance with the Black Lawyers Association is effective, when it comes to nominations and voting of LPC members. He added that NADEL remains committed to its relations with international alliances and will continue to show its support.

Africa puts more into the global market than it gets out of it

In his keynote address, Executive Director of UHAI Africa Group, Brian Kagoro, said that there was a matrix of colonial power, namely the power of economy, control of authority, control of culture, custom and education, the control of spirituality, the control of welfare, wellbeing and livelihoods, the control of technology, and the control of gender. He pointed out that this is his introduction to the conversation that Africans waste most of their time to produce often useless products to export and yet export earnings are not enough to sustain economies, even in a country as big as SA. He added that the reality is that Africa puts more into the global market than it gets out of it, regardless of whether one is dealing with mining, natural resources, or agriculture, Africa experiences nett losses with its interface in the global market.

Mr Kagoro pointed out that because of this, there are social, economic, and other consequences that Africa has a penalty for the wastage of labour time. He said the penalty includes inequality, unemployment, and hunger to name a few, and that causes the outrage that is seen from young people especially across the continent. He said that in order to reinvigorate, to create futures that are better or different from the past, history cannot be recreated. He said the African continent needs a different outlook on economic policies and development. He pointed out that external causes are only a condition of change and internal causes are the basis of change and, if people appreciate that external causes are conditions of change and internal causes are the basis of change, it is possible for Africa to imagine futures where self-reliance, growth, mutuality, dependence, and PAN-Africa can be made real in this lifetime.

NADEL has the capacity to pursue paths of social justice and transformation

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, delivered his address at the NADEL National Conference on 5 December 2021. He said that he had no doubt that NADEL has the capacity to pursue paths of social justice and transformation. He added that in the past 34 years NADEL has been a bastion of progressive lawyering. He said this has not been lost despite the passage of time. He pointed out that the recent contribution by NADEL on how to address the land question is yet another example of not just being legal practitioners but being active proponents of social justice.

Mr Lamola said: ‘It is time of lawyering that will help us unbundle the racist, colonial domination of the indigenous African majority, which characterised politics and governance in South Africa for centuries.’ He said that the forthright submission by NADEL, which sought to address the myth that black people do not have the skills or the desire to work the land in a self-sustaining or profitable manner, is a critical intervention in a discussion which is often soiled by red herrings on how land reform can lead to ruins. ‘Equally compelling is your exposition of whether there is a disconnect on an ideological level between the transformative vision and what has been termed by yourselves as legal formalism that guide government’s approach to the property rights, and whether this perpetuates historical injustice,’ Mr Lamola added. He said perhaps this is a lens that should be applied across the board and asked if transformation is constrained by legal formalism.

Mr Lamola pointed out that the Human Sciences Research Council conducted a survey in which they asked South Africans several questions. He added that two of those questions piqued his curiosity. He said the survey revealed that there is a growing disconnect with the functioning of democracy in SA, despite an improvement following the transition to the Ramaphosa administration, this was after a question was posed on whether South Africans were satisfied with democracy. He added that in 2004, 63% of South Africans indicated they were satisfied with democracy, however, by 2017, the level of satisfaction had fallen significantly to a mere 23%, with a slight recovery to 35%. The trust in national government decreased from 67% in 2004 to a low 28% in 2017, while trust in Parliament dropped over the same period.

Mr Lamola said if it should be considered that the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment, and inequality, remain stubborn despite the regime of democracy, ‘we may be able to analyse the results of the survey.’ He pointed out of those challenges the dominant challenge facing government is its quest to create a better life for all. He posed a question to the delegates present, whether South Africans have faith in justice and the justice system? ‘I pose this question to this forum because you are all in the business of justice. You are participants in the programme to make justice accessible to all. During 2018, a survey revealed that crime is on the rise and trust in the criminal justice was declining,’ Mr Lamola added.

Mr Lamola said that one would suspect that this sentiment remains despite very high prosecution rates for crimes such as gender-based violence in particular. He left delegates with the question of what can be done to restore and enhance the institution legal practitioners practice in.

The third Annual Pius Langa Memorial Lecture and Dinner

Minister of Tourism, Lindiwe Sisulu, delivered the Annual Pius Langa Memorial Lecture. She said that the late Chief Justice Langa was decent and exceedingly humble and as a legal practitioner and a judge, he was the epitome of all legal excellence. His judicial temperament was always in charge and his academic preparation was one of the best SA had. Ms Sisulu pointed out that during the struggle of Apartheid, legal practitioners, such as Justice Langa and his fellow colleagues, were defending activists and were struggling financially as the African National Congress (ANC) could not pay them. She pointed out that because of their legal support to the activists, these legal practitioners were targeted by the regime and their lives were in constant danger.

Ms Sisulu said that a progressive legal fraternity was effectively another arm of the struggle, which SA was going through, she added that progressive legal practitioners defended activists against the oppression of the Apartheid regime. She pointed out that during the early 1970’s there were the most random arrests of black activists and the only hope the activists had, was in the legal profession, and the only defence they had were the legal practitioners who made sure that they were treated with a certain level of humanity. ‘These brave men and women were our saviours, Victoria Mxenge, Dumisa Ntsebeza, Pius Langa to name a few, made sure we were represented every time we were arrested. Unfortunately, because of the nature of the state, very few of them lived through that period and survived,’ Ms Sisulu said.

Ms Sisulu pointed out that Victoria Mxenge was murdered in cold blood in front of her children, followed by her husband and Bheki Mlangeni was sent a parcel bomb, which shredded his body. She added that as a child growing up in the struggle, she felt deeply indebted to the progressive legal fraternity, for it defended her father, mother, and brother Max Sisulu who was 17 years old at the time and in detention, as well as her brother Lungi who was 13 at the time, who was also in detention. She said progressive legal practitioners rescued children of the struggle, aged six years and older, from the police station after they had been rounded up when they were marching.

Ms Sisulu said that the activists had a feeling of gratitude towards the democratic legal practitioners and continue to have. ‘I dreaded this lecture because I had to make sure I could handle it, so from all of us, whom yourselves and predecessors defended we would like to express our gratitude, for everything you went through to make sure we survive the atrocity of Apartheid, we would like to thank you for putting your lives at risk to make sure that the minimum requirement of the law was met,’ Ms Sisulu added.

Ms Sisulu said in the liberation movement NADEL occupied a space that was the only source of support to the struggle and great risk to themselves, the only source of hope and comfort, the only contact with the outside world. She added that it is, therefore, with a deep sense of appreciation that she acknowledges the role made by NADEL in the liberation struggle and congratulated NADEL for continuing that legacy in the democratic SA today.

Other messages of support to NADEL that were delivered virtually, were from the Ambassador of Venezuela, Mairin Moreno-Merida; from Pan African Bar Association of South Africa, by legal practitioner Nasreen Rajab-Budlender SC; from the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, delivered by Edre Olalia, and Rebeca Hernandez Toledano of the Charge d’Affaires Cuban Embassy.

The National Executive Committee of NADEL

  • Mvuzo Notyesi – President
  • Machini Motloung – Deputy President
  • Nolitha Jali – Secretary General
  • Chandre Brown – Deputy Secretary General
  • Reshen Pillay – Treasurer General
  • Eunice Masipa – Deputy Treasurer General
  • Zincedile Tiya – International Relations
  • Bukky Olowookorun – Gender
  • Lizelle Haskins – Publicity Secretary
  • Themba Mathenjwa – Legislation Transformation
  • Carol Selepe – Youth Development

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