The law is a tool to change society in one way or the other

September 1st, 2023

Candidate legal practitioner, Masai Buthane.

In this month’s Young Thought Leader feature, De Rebus news reporter, Kgomotso Ramotsho spoke to Masai Buthane from Limpopo. Mr Buthane was born in Mokopane and grew up in Lephalale. After completing high school at Northern Academy, he pursued tertiary studies at the University of Johannesburg (UJ). Mr Buthane graduated with a BCom Law degree, specialising in accounting and economics in 2016, followed by a Bachelor of Law degree in 2018, and a master’s degree in law focussing on human rights and a thesis on the expropriation of land without compensation with an analysis of the history of acquisition of property as a factor in determining just and equitable compensation.

During his student days, Mr Buthane was elected in 2017 as the secretary general of the Black Lawyers Association Student Chapter (BLASC) National Executive Committee and served on various executive committees of student activist organisations at UJ. Mr Buthane said that his upbringing instilled a sense of independence in him, and his parents’ engagement as active citizens, striving to impact change wherever possible, inspired his commitment to bring about societal change. Mr Buthane is currently a candidate legal practitioner at Webber Wentzel, specialising in the formation of investment funds and general corporate law. ‘I am also active in the National Association of Democratic Lawyers and the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals. I have also been recently appointed as a UJ Alumni Gauteng Chapter Convener’, Mr Buthane added.


Kgomotso Ramotsho (KR): Why did you choose to study law?

Masai Buthane (MB): I chose to study law because I always believed that the law is a tool to effect change in society in one way or another. At first, I was confused as to whether I should study and become a chartered accountant, an econometrist or a lawyer. Thus, I first studied BCom Law specialising in accounting and economics later specialising in law and studied an LLB (after loving the legal aspects more). However, from my days in high school I was quite interested in entrepreneurship and how to run a successful business. I always had great business ideas and sometimes I invested in growing small businesses in high school with the aim of enjoying profits later on and enhancing the business to create more cash flow in the business. Funny enough, all this is private equity (the space that I am now in). Ultimately, I chose to study law in order to impact society. Also, it is important to say that I chose to study law in order to liberate myself and my family from socio-economic and related challenges.


KR: In the firm, what field of law do you specialise in and what are some of the challenges you face in your profession? What aspects of your job are you passionate about?

MB: I work at Webber Wenzel and I am an investment funds lawyer specialising in the formation of private equity funds and general corporate aspects. My work entails specialising in establishing, managing, and ensuring legal compliance for various investment funds, which pool money from multiple investors to be professionally managed and invested in diverse assets. We draft fund documentation and handle negotiations, ensuring transparent operations and facilitating successful transactions within a complex financial and legal landscape. I am passionate about the field of work that I do because I am able to be part of the private equity teams that impact change in society and enterprises in which they invest in. I am mostly interested in environmental, social and governance investing (more so the social aspect) and the wider spectrum of impact investing because this speaks to the problems of socio-economic challenges in South Africa, such as unemployment, poverty, black and women discrimination. What makes me passionate about it is helping and advising teams that invest in enterprises and who ultimately positively impact society in a social economic sense, which was something I always wanted to do but was only able to purse in the political spectrum.

Some of the challenges that we face in our profession is that you find that there are certain legal practitioners who are not being paid according to what they put in or who are not paid at all. This is exploitation in my view. In addition, we still see today that when writing our Board Examinations in only two languages (English and Afrikaans). This goes against the principles of diversity and our South African values as it still is uncertain why Afrikaans and people that speak the language are advantaged over the other (majority) students who speak various other official languages. Certainly, this is discrimination on its own, in the legal profession. In addition, the inequality of women employment in the whole profession and various other discriminations against women namely, not being paid while on maternity leave; being looked down on for being pregnant; not being entitled to bonuses because they are pregnant and not receiving promotions like their male counterparts.


KR: What is the most important quality you think a legal practitioner should have?

MB: A legal practitioner should be non-judgmental and unbiased and embody integrity and honesty. These qualities are essential to upholding justice and maintaining the dignity of the judiciary.


KR: Has it always been your dream to work at one of the big law firms?

MB: While not an initial dream, exposure to big law firms during my active student years made me recognise the opportunities they offer. I appreciate how my current role aligns with my interests and offers room for personal and professional growth.


KR: There is a misconception that the quality of legal practitioners in the private space and that of those in the public space is not the same. Do you have any thoughts on this?

MB: The quality of a legal practitioner is based on the experience that they have, which speaks to the training that they get and the amount of time, hard work and attitude that the individual puts into their growth. They are very good lawyers in the public space, and they are very good lawyers in the private space. I think it is incorrect that there is a level of quality simply because of the sector one is in. There is an intentional misconception that black professionals are incompetent because the face of the public sector is black while white professionals are competent because the face or the private sector is white. This cannot be accepted. Unless there is lack of resources, training provided to a legal practitioner in the public sector, I do not see why there cannot be quality in their respective speciality.


KR: What advice would you give to candidate legal practitioners who might want to get articles of clerkship at a big law firm?

MB: Go for it but do your research. Go for a firm that you think will align with your values and you will be able to meet its expectation namely, the expectation of long working hours. So, one must do quite a lot of research. There is also more in the legal profession that just a big law firm. Depending on what your values are and interest in law, you choose the course you want to run. And I am always happy to advise people should they wish to contact me via LinkedIn.


KR: What does access to justice mean to you?

MB: Access to justice means someone in Lephalale being able to cry to the law and find resolution in the law. This means someone in Ga-Rammobola in Moletji being able to be assisted by the law and through competent legal practitioners. This is at times, for free (pro bono) and at times at low costs and still being exposed to quality legal assistance. This is legal assistance in the most efficient manner for the people. So, it ultimately means the most ordinary person being able to access dispute resolution, and general legal assistance in the most time efficient and cost-effective way regardless of being in the village or township, or being old or young, male or female, black or white, rich or poor.


KR: What is your everyday motto that you live by and why?

MB: My motto is time, space and patience is important in life: You must give yourself time, you must give yourself space, and you must be patient in your craft. Life is not easy. You fall, you dust yourself off, you come back, you run, sometimes you fly, sometimes you crawl, as long as you keep moving and pushing, with time and space all will make sense. And yes, God is King!

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 (Sep) DR 23.