The issue of transformation should be more than just about colour and gender

December 22nd, 2022

The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) held its gala dinner and Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Durban on 18 and 19 November 2022, under the theme ‘Bridging the divide: Confronting the socio-economic challenges of a black lawyer.’ At the dinner, Acting Judge President of the KwaZulu-Natal Division of the High Court, Isaac Madondo welcomed guests as the hosting judge in that division.

Vice-President for Southern Africa of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU), Mabaeng Denise Lenyai, speaking on behalf of PALU.

The Pan African Lawyers Union’s (PALU) Vice-President for Southern Africa, Mabaeng Denise Lenyai, during her speech, noted that most of the legal practitioners who were in that room are well qualified, well trained, and well equipped. She pointed out that the current challenge facing SA is that there is no political will to give black legal practitioners the necessary instructions that they require. ‘The challenge is not that we are not well trained. The challenge is that we are sitting in our offices with no instructions. The challenge is that you as black legal practitioner will be sitting in your office with 20 to 23 years of experience. But a white legal practitioner recently qualified, will be given the instructions.’

Ms Lenyai said that PALU is telling the BLA that it is about time that the truth is spoken to those who are in power. ‘We are ready as PALU to stand with the [Law Society of South Africa] and all its constituent members to challenge the disadvantages that are happening right now. We are willing and ready to speak to the leaders here in South Africa. PALU is funded to challenge such injustices, because the core of PALU is to realise a united just, prosperous Africa built on the rule of law and good governance,’ Ms Lenyai added.

The President of the Black Lawyers Association, Bayethe Maswazi, addressing the organisation’s members at their Annual General Meeting.

In his remarks, the President of the BLA, Bayethe Maswazi, said that the BLA continues to tell the story of the organisation, which is a colourful story. He said that the organisation met to recognise those who have contributed to the life of the organisation. ‘We are also here to wake up as a voice that has been silenced for a long time because we want to hear, we want to hear it too. If the BLA is dedicated to the building of a better profession, for a better judiciary that must give us a better society, we must listen to all those that have been silenced, because they are called on to also make their case. You will never be able to tell a story of a hunt, until you allow the lion to tell that story as well,’ Mr Maswazi said.

Mr Maswazi added that the BLA is rooted in the essence of black excellence. He said the members of the organisation will always protect against those who want to humiliate and denigrate it. He added that the BLA is dedicated to building a new constitutionalism, he said the organisation will do so because they expect that black legal practitioners when they are sent to the Bench and become judges, to bring more than their pigmentation to the Bench, but to bring a revolutionary mindset, that is forever prepared to turn the jurisprudence 180 degrees in order to give society a new and better civilisation. ‘If we speak about transformation and briefing patterns, we are not speaking because we want black legal practitioners to drive big cars and live in areas that their ancestors will not recognise,’ Mr Maswazi said. He said they talk about transformation and briefing patterns, because the BLA wants the jurisprudence to be a representative of a mindset that has been silent for centuries.

Awards handed out

Black Lawyers Association President Bayethe Maswazi, during the handover ceremony of awards with long-time serving member of the BLA, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, who was awarded with the Special Recognition Award on that evening.

The BLA National Executive Committee handed out five awards on the night. Mr Maswazi said that if the BLA members are proud of the organisation, they must equally be proud of those who have contributed to the organisation. He pointed out that this would be the culture going forward. The following awards were handed out:

  • The most outstanding BLA Student Chapter was awarded to the BLA Limpopo Student Chapter.
  • The most promising branch for their concerted effort to betterment, steady consistent goals, their diligence and contribution to the BLA and the legal profession at large, was awarded to the BLA Gauteng branch.
  • The most outstanding branch, for their consistence growth, demonstrated by their participation in the BLA activities and exceptional contribution to the legal profession, was awarded to the BLA Limpopo branch.
  • A Special Recognition Award, awarded for commitment, leadership, excellence service and exceptional contribution to the transformation of the legal profession, judiciary and the BLA, was awarded to Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu.
  • The Lifetime Achievers Award, for leadership, excellence service, exceptional contribution to the transformation of the legal profession, judiciary and the BLA, was awarded posthumously to the late former BLA President, Lutendo Sigogo.

    An emotional moment for Khangale Sigogo after receiving a Lifetime Achievers Award in honour of her late husband and former President of the Black Lawyers Association, Lutendo Sigogo.

After receiving the award on behalf of her late husband, Khangale Sigogo thanked the BLA for the support that it has given her and his children.

Judge President of the Western Cape Division of the High Court, John Hlophe (who was recently suspended from his duties by President Cyril Ramaphosa) delivered the keynote address at the dinner hosted by the BLA. He touched on issues such as racism and land in SA. He said that a lot of politicians avoid talking about the sensitive clause in s 25 of the Constitution, which states that there shall be no arbitrary compensation. He added that it goes on to list circumstances on how land can be ‘confiscated’ and circumstances where compensation may be paid. ‘We all know the principle of a willing buyer; willing seller does not work. It has not worked anywhere in other countries, why are we fooling ourselves that it will work in South Africa in circumstances where it has not worked anywhere else,’ Judge Hlophe said.

Judge President of the Western Cape Division of the High Court, John Hlophe (who was recently suspended from his duties By President Cyril Ramaphosa), gave a keynote address at the Black Lawyers Association Awards Ceremony held in Durban on 18 November 2022.

He said the question is whether one looks at s 25 of the Constitution, how do they interpret it? He added that there is still a lot of debate, that some people think it should be amended. He pointed out that there is no need to amend s 25 of the Constitution. ‘It is very clear what is need, it is a percussive interpretation. An interpretation that speaks to the aspiration of the African people. An interpretation that speaks to the history of land dispossession in this country, an interpretation that restores dignity particularly to the African people who were deprived of their land,’ Judge Hlophe added. He said there is nothing in the Constitution that is against that construction. He pointed out that SA needs judges who are going to look at the law and understand where the nation is coming from and where it wants to move. He said transformation of the mindset is what is needed.

The morning of the AGM, the BLA started with a march against gender-based violence against women and children. President Maswazi said: ‘We are marching as BLA, because they have seen that the country is bleeding and we want to stop the bleeding, stop killing our women, stop killing our children, let us build a better society together.’

Members of the Black Lawyers Association marched against acts of gender-based violence on 19 November 2022, ahead of their Annual General Meeting.

Messages of support at the AGM

The Legal Practice Council’s (LPC) Head of Education, Busani Mabunda, spoke on behalf of the organisation. He said that the LPC Chairperson, Janine Myburgh, wished to convey the message of support to the BLA at their AGM and to state that the role that is played by the BLA to the legal profession is a profound one and it is highly appreciated and is assisting in shaping the course of the legal profession.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Legal Practitioners’ Fidelity Fund, Motlatsi Molefe, also expressed support for the BLA at their AGM. He highlighted what he described as an act of generosity from the organisation to some branches of the BLA and members of the awards that they were given. He said that the BLA displayed class by honouring stalwarts such as Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu and the late Lutendo Sigogo. He added that the BLA is a classy organisation, and he is proud to call it his home.

The Executive Director of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Anthony Pillay, wished the BLA well and said the LSSA is looking forward to the outcomes of the BLA AGM and the reports that the LSSA must consider on a broad basis and how the LSSA will implement some of the important resolutions the BLA brings forward, which over the years have been largely driven by transformation of the legal profession and society.

President of the South African Women Lawyers Association, Nomaswazi Shabangu-Mndawe said that the topic discussed at the BLA AGM is relevant to black female legal practitioners. She added that it also raised a lot of questions, which remained unanswered. She pointed out that the question that should be asked is whether the legal profession has opened to black female legal practitioners. Furthermore, are black female legal practitioners given the same opportunities as their male counterparts? Are black women lawyers regarded as capable as their male counterparts? ‘Will we live to one day see men in this room raising their hands and vote for a woman to lead the BLA? Our title is not deputy, our title is not second in charge. But we are leaders, and we are capable to lead, give us the space,’ Ms Shabangu-Mndawe added. She said when discussing the issue of socio-economics of black lawyers, they must start with issues of black female legal practitioners.

In his presentation at the AGM, President Maswazi said that the organisation meets to continue the journey that was started 45 years ago. He said that for the past 45 years the founders of the BLA and the current members have been meeting every year to reflect on the journey travelled in the given year and take stock of the work done to advance the organisation closer to the fulfilment of the objectives of the BLA. He added that to meet like they do is not a ceremonial gesture, but a moment to look at themselves and the issue of transformation that constitutes a critical dimension of the destiny of society.

Judge Mbulelo Jolwana giving a keynote address at the Black Lawyers Association Annual General Meeting on 19 November in Durban.

Keynote speaker at the AGM, Judge Mbulelo Jolwana, started his speech by saying that he owes his being to the BLA. He said it was good to reconnect with his family, the BLA. He pointed out that he was once invited, in 2018, by the late President of the BLA, Lutendo Sigogo asking him to address a gathering of the members of the BLA. He said at that time he regrettably declined and explained himself to him, to which Mr Sigogo understood and accepted his explanation. ‘What I did not know was that would be the last time we spoke with him, and he would never hear this speech again. This is why I said regrettably I declined,’ Judge Jolwana said. He pointed out that he was glad that he can fulfil the promise he made to Mr Sigogo, of addressing the BLA, even if Mr Sigogo was not there to see it.

Judge Jolwana said that there is more to transformation than to colouring gender importance as they are. He added that in one of the articles he wrote, he raised that it was not enough to deal with transformation only on colour and gender. He said he argued that the judiciary should reflect a transformed judiciary and asked whether it was correct to use the common law to interpret the Constitution. He added that it is the Constitution that should be the starting point. ‘When we are fully transformed and transformation is realised, it will not be necessary to resort to the common law to explain the value system to the people of this country,’ Judge Jolwana said.

Judge Jolwana added that in order to confront the socio-economic challenges of black lawyers, one should root themselves to the lived experience of the poor majority of the people of SA, a lot of whom are black. He pointed out that black South Africans cannot celebrate with black lawyers while they live in hopelessness, where on a daily basis promises are made to them in the Constitution, on how good the Constitution is. He said the problem is that the Constitution is not a self-executing document. He pointed out that it needs women and men of conscience to translate the words in that document into realisable rights as against promises. He said if it was not for the people gathered at the BLA meeting who must take that responsibility then he does not know who.


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