Transformation in our lifetime

November 1st, 2014

By Mapula Thebe – editor

What is this beast called transformation? The word transformation, since the advent of democracy, has been used as a catch phrase to define a societal change needed in South Africa. As inequality was the status quo during apartheid, every sphere of the country from business to government needed to transform so that it was generally representative of the demographics of the country. The Oxford Dictionary defines the word ‘transformation’ as: ‘A marked change in form, nature, or appearance.’ In relation to the law profession, what does the term actually mean? Does it only relate to the ‘appearance’ of the profession? In my view, the term has a much deeper meaning than just the colour of the profession.

As you should be aware, the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 (the Act) was promulgated on 22 September (see 43). Among other things, the objective of the Act is: ‘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.’ The Act aims to address the ‘appearance’ of the profession to ensure that the demographics of the country are correctly reflected in the profession. Statistics of the profession show that its demographics do not reflect those of the country (see 2014 (Sept) DR 20).

The Legal Practice Council, envisaged in the Act, has a mammoth task of ensuring that the profession is indeed transformed by putting in place ‘measures that provide equal opportunities for all aspirant legal practitioners in order to have a legal profession that broadly reflects the demographics of the Republic’.

On page 18 Nomfundo Manyathi-Jele writes an article on the report on the Transformation of the Legal Profession researched by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) in partnership with the Foundation for Human Rights. Unfortunately the findings of the report show that gender tends to be seen as less important than race in the process of transformation. The report also shows that due to racism, prejudice and pre-conceived notions of ability, or inability, many black legal practitioners believe that they have to ‘work twice as hard’ to only get ‘half as far’ as their white counterparts.

One of the participants of the research said that the notion of transformation is still not fully understood as she was told that she would receive more briefs as a black woman. The participant expressed discomfort at being guaranteed briefs by virtue of her race and gender, and wants her success to be based on her merit.

After 20 years of democracy, the profession has a long way to go till it addresses injustices of the past and eradicate prejudices and pre-conceived notions. For transformation to happen in our lifetime, it should be championed by all attorneys. All attorneys should be aware that the issue of transformation is not a human resource department problem and that the solution lies in all individual attorneys in how they conduct business and perceive others.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2014 (Nov) DR 3.