Transformation – the continuing debate

September 26th, 2016

By Mapula Thebe

The South African Women Lawyers Association (SAWLA) held its annual general meeting (AGM) in August. The main topic discussed was transformation of the legal profession.

Director of Legal Services at the Department of Justice, Motshabi Setlhako-Madiehe, delivered the keynote address. Ms Setlhako-Madiehe said legal professionals needed to work together to form a perfect union that will ensure that the justice system is accessible to all, especially those that are underprivileged.

Provincial Chairperson, Nomahlubi Khwinana, welcomed delegates at the AGM.

Provincial Chairperson, Nomahlubi Khwinana, welcomed delegates at the AGM.

Manager at the Attorneys Development Fund, Mackenzie Mukansi, spoke about the opportunities available for female legal practitioners. He advised female legal practitioners to not be like their male counterparts. ‘Women tend to spend too much time wanting to be like men, do not be like us, do not aspire to be like us. Keep your nurturing spirit. Do not be your worst enemies, do not compete against each other,’ he said.

Panel discussion on transformation

President of the Black Lawyers Association, Lutendo Sigogo, noted that the rule of law is guaranteed through the legal profession. He added that transformation of the legal profession should be viewed as equitable distribution of work with the reflection of the countries demographics from university to the work environment. ‘In respect of work, the demographics of the country should be reflected in the profession and the Bench,’ he said.

With respect to gender transformation in the profession, Mr Sigogo said it begins with ensuring that female students who study law complete their degree. ‘It is not enough that female students are accepted at university. If they are to complete their degrees so that females are well represented in the profession, they should be assisted to afford their tertiary fees. For instance, SAWLA could partner with a financial institution to provide such scholarships,’ he added.

Mr Sigogo noted that female legal practitioners are still faced with having to leave practice when they go on maternity leave. He said SAWLA needs to find a mechanism to ensure that women who go on maternity leave are still able to practice when they return to the firm. He went on further to say that SAWLA should address the lack of female representatives in the leadership of the profession, as the figure of female leaders in the profession is ‘unacceptably low’.

Lucrecia Seafield, from the Foundation for Human Rights, began her address by stating that there has been a significant change in the number of women in the profession and the Bench post-Apartheid. ‘As much as there has been change in the number of females in the profession, when we debate the issue of transformation, we need to understand that transformation is not the promotion for positions that women are not qualified for,’ she added.

Ms Seafield went further to ask: ‘Why do we need transformation? Is it a nice to have? That is not why we need it. Transformation is in fact a constitutional imperative and it should continue to be one. There are other reasons why we need transformation as it adds to diversity, which in turn assist the profession and the Bench in understanding issues pertaining to women.’

President of SAWLA, Noxolo Maduba, delivered the opening remarks.

President of SAWLA, Noxolo Maduba, delivered the opening remarks.

Ms Seafield highlighted the fact that there is still little mentoring for women entering the profession. ‘We should look at how to make mentoring others an obligation or one of the criteria for remaining in the profession. Every year in August we debate the issue of transformation in the profession, it is time we take action and take this issue beyond the month of August. Each generation has a mission; our generation has betrayed its mission. We did not make the profession better for women entering the profession. It is a shame that the profession is not better than we found it 20 years ago,’ she added.

Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions, Nomvula Mokhatla, said that in a nutshell transformation means access and exposure.

Resolutions from the AGM

The following resolutions were made following the closed session held during the AGM:

  • Members of SAWLA in all provinces will participate in the initiative of providing sanitary towels at schools.
  • The National Executive Committee is to conduct road shows in all provinces.
  • The recently reviewed strategy plan document will be circulated to the members.
  • The General Secretary, Nolukhanyiso Gcilitshana, is to follow up on the issue of the formulation of the professional interest body.
  • The provincial structures are to launch the student chapter of SAWLA.


Mapula Thebe NDip Journ (DUT) BTech (Journ) (TUT) is the editor of De Rebus.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2016 (Oct) DR 4.

De Rebus