University of Venda and the LSSA launch a School for Legal Practice in Thohoyandou

November 26th, 2021
x
Bookmark

 

From left: University of Venda’s School of Law Dean, Professor Lonias Ndlovu; with the former Executive Committee member of the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), Nkosana Mvundlela; Polokwane School for Legal Practice Principal, Queen Gopo; University of Venda’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni and University of Venda’s Executive Dean in the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law, Professor Modimowabarwa Kanyane, at the launch and opening of the University of Venda’s School for Legal Practice in partnership with the LSSA.

By Kgomotso Ramotsho

The University of Venda (the University) and the Law Society of South Africa (LSSA) have partnered to establish a School for Legal Practice (the school) in Thohoyandou. On 22 October 2021, the two institutions signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) at the official launch and opening of the school. The event was attended by representatives of the University, as well as the University’s Law School, the LSSA and the Black Lawyers Association’s (BLA) Student Chapter President, Shandukani Mudau.

In his welcoming speech, the Executive Dean in the Faculty of Management, Commerce and Law, Professor Modimowabarwa Kanyane, said that legal education is recognised during this time period in South Africa (SA), which in turn, becomes a foundation for future legal practitioners. He added that the relationship that is being established between the University and the LSSA is niche, bridging the gap between university education and the community of practice. He likened it to an axe that sharpens the other axe, which is required for the University to engage with the community because community engagement is very critical for society.

Prof Kanyane pointed out that the partnership between the two institutions is a huge intervention in Thohoyandou, Limpopo, as well as in SA and globally. He said that the partnership resonates with the University’s vision. He pointed out that the University has produced a strong strategy, which is an embodiment of a vision that thrives to produce graduates that are competitive globally and the partnership between the University and the LSSA is a way of deepening the scholarship that has an impact on the lives of the community, more so in the law community.

Former Executive Committee Member of the LSSA, Nkosana Mvundlela; Polokwane School for Legal Practice and University of Venda’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni, signed the Memorandum of Agreement for a partnership of a new School for Legal Practice that was launched and opened on 22 October 2021 at the University of Venda in Thohoyandou.

The University’s School of Law Dean, Professor Lonias Ndlovu gave a brief background on how the partnership with the LSSA began. He said that in 2019 when he was appointed as Dean, he attended an event hosted by the law students, where the Principal of the Polokwane School for Legal Practice, Ms Queen Gopo, was one of the speakers. He said that after her speech he had an opportunity to speak to Ms Gopo, who brought up the conversation of the two institutions partnering up to establish a Legal School for Education at the University. However, Prof Ndlovu pointed out that the idea started long before 2019. He said that when one looks at the strategic plan of the University, having a School for Legal Practice is one of the programmes the University should have on board.

Prof Ndlovu said that normally when law students complete their LLB studies at the University, they then apply at various Schools for Legal Practice across the country for practical training, which is offered for six months. He added that competition for space at the School for Legal Practice is quite stiff and when one looks at the background of the students coming from the University, namely students coming from Thohoyandou, Venda or the surrounding areas, one finds that even if the students are admitted at the Polokwane School for Legal Practice less than 200 kilometres away, the students grapple with the issue of living day-to-day. He noted that they would be on campus and receiving student financial aid, and when they go, they must find accommodation close to the School for Legal Practice they have applied at and that adds to the student’s financial burden.

Prof Ndlovu said during the LLB review, one of the questions that was raised was the gap between what happens when students exit university and they become candidate legal practitioners, which takes the student a while to adjust to the practical side of law. ‘We view the School for Legal Practice coming here as a bridge between exiting the academic route to kind of peeping into the practical world and we are looking at it as something that is sightly to be enriching,’ Prof Ndlovu said. He pointed out that he is looking forward to benefiting on how the University’s Law School teaches law now that they will be close to the school so that they can be able to compare notes.

The Principal of the Polokwane School for Legal Practice, Ms Gopo, in her speech said the launch and official opening of the school, is through grace and the celebration of new birth, growth, hope and promise. She pointed out that this was made possible by the pioneering and visionary leadership of the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni and the Acting Executive Director of the LSSA, Tony Pillay and not forgetting the former BLA President and Acting Judge of the Mpumalanga High Court, the late Mr Lutendo Sigogo, and not undermining the tireless efforts of the Dean of the University’s School of Law, Professor Ndlovu and his management team, who refused to waiver from the resolve to see the initiative through even in the time of COVID-19.

Ms Gopo said it is this very resolve, under very trying circumstances, that made the moment special. Ms Gopo shared her personal story, that in 1998 she sat as one of the inception graduates at the birth of the Polokwane School for Legal Practice and to stand here 23 years later, at her second inception as the founding Principal of the school was an honour. She said that the University and the LSSA were proud to announce the establishment of the school. She pointed out that the school will present practical legal training (PLT) courses to anyone who has an LLB degree, had attended and completed legal training for an uninterrupted period of at least four months to be admitted.

Ms Gopo added that such an attendance certificate will also exempt candidate legal practitioners from service under articles of clerkship for a period of one year. She said the MOA signed will set the governance structures based on equitable presentations of different stakeholders, such as the BLA and National Association of Democratic Lawyers. She pointed out that it will start the establishment of the School Advisory Body, which among other responsibilities will be to appoint competent instructors who will be able to lead candidate legal practitioners into the legal profession.

Ms Gopo said that the school will start as a pilot project and will commence in January 2022 as a night school. However, she added that it leaves no doubt that it will grow from strength to strength based on the enquiries that they have received. She pointed out that the school will bring convenience for students around the area of Venda and nearby communities, as they will be able to attend PLT without interrupting their employment commitments or suffering the inconvenience of travelling to Polokwane or even outside the province. Ms Gopo noted that some of the best performing students at the Polokwane School for Legal Practice, are from the University. ‘We look forward to receiving multitudes of applications from prospective candidates. We urge candidates to apply and be part of this historical moment of the inception group of the School of Legal Practice Venda Campus,’ Ms Gopo said.

Former Executive Committee member of the LSSA, Nkosana Mvundlela, said that the transformation agenda of the LSSA is multifaceted. He pointed out that it looks at the demographics, considers practice support, aspires to enhance the democracy of SA, the rule of law, protect society and environment and be a socially responsible corporate citizen. He added that the LSSA, has a wealth of information and skills at its disposal that it uses to remain relevant to their stakeholders, especially young law graduates and legal practitioners.

Mr Mvundlela pointed out that what students learn at university serves the foundation of legal knowledge. He said that the LSSA builds on the practical implementation via skills learned at the school, including analyses, innovation critical thinking and client care in a professional and ethical manner. He added that as part of its community education programme, the LSSA produces a series of pamphlets on the practical implementation on law related topics, explaining the law in plain language. ‘The major focus of the LSSA is the education of candidate legal practitioners via LEAD [Legal Education and Development] and its digital journal De Rebus,’ Mr Mvundlela added.

Mr Mvundlela pointed out that as one of the divisions of the LSSA, LEAD’s plan has always been to introduce a school in every region or area where there are a sufficient number of LLB graduates. He added that over the years the LSSA has seen an increase in the number of LLB graduates who come from the University and who have registered at the Polokwane, Pretoria and even the Johannesburg Schools for Legal Practice. ‘We have always wanted to bring the schools closer to the people who need it most, the area of Venda became a necessity,’ Mr Mvundlela said.

Mr Mvundlela pointed out that the conversations regarding the establishment of the University’s School for Legal Practice started in 2017 when the BLA in Limpopo had a meeting with the late Chief Executive Officer of the LSSA and Director of LEAD, Nic Swart, and the former Dean of the then School of Law, Annette Lansink, who explored the need for the establishment of the school. He added that such discussions stalled until the discussions with the former LSSA Council member, and BLA President, the late Mr Sigogo, pushed the idea that there was a need for a school in Venda and that he would be prepared to get legal practitioners in that area involved to act as instructors.

Former Executive Committee member of the LSSA, Nkosana Mvundlela; Polokwane School for Legal Practice and University of Venda’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni, exchanging copies of the signed memorandum.

Mr Mvundlela said that the schools across the country, established by the LSSA in 1990 and implemented via LEAD; provide a postgraduate, Practical Vocational Training (PVT) course for law graduates, which is accredited by the Legal Practice Council (LPC) and the South African Qualifications Authority. He added that the LSSA and LEAD are accredited by the LPC to provide the PVT as required by the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014. He pointed out that an in-depth four-month attendance PVT course is currently offered at nine residential schools and one distance school. ‘We are excited and honoured to add the University of Venda to the list of residential schools. The school will run on a trial basis, and we are confident that it will be sustainable, giving rise to a permanent school,’ Mr Mvundlela said.

Mr Mvundlela added that LLB graduates who complete the LSSA-LEAD six months (semester) distance PVT programme, qualify for one year’s credit on their PVT contract period (articles) as candidate attorneys. ‘This fast tracks the admission process of those students into the legal field of practice of their choice, be it the advocates profession or attorney’s profession. Therefore, in our view as the LSSA, this moment deserves to be celebrated and embraced for the betterment of access to the legal profession by the people of this region. We look forward to a fruitful, partnership and we appeal to all the legal practitioners in this area to avail themselves to be instructors in the legal school. ‘We believe that the University will now benefit a lot out of the local practitioners by sharing the practice knowledge interwoven with academic excellence the University is providing,’ Mr Mvundlela said.

Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University, Dr Bernard Nthambeleni said that the University was pleased that it will be added to the list and modestly contribute to the legal education of future legal practitioners, especially those coming from previously disadvantaged communities located in rural areas such as in Thohoyandou. He pointed out that although the Polokwane School for Legal Practice has served and continues to serve students from the University, the establishment of the new school will go a long way towards satisfying the hunger for practical legal education. ‘Our School of Law at the University of Venda is currently punching above its weight to provide general legal education, offering undergraduates (LLB) and postgraduate qualifications (LLM and PhD degrees)’.

Vice-Chancellor Nthambeleni added that the staff at the University complements diversity and continues to produce quality graduates of which the University is proud. He said that the University boasts many prominent alumni, including the current Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, prominent attorneys and advocates, magistrates, judges, and legal advisors. He pointed out that the importance of the School for Legal Practice will be symbiotic.

Vice-Chancellor Nthambeleni added: ‘While law students learn a lot of practical law from the Law Clinic and in some relevant adjectival law modules, they will further hone their practical skills at the University’s School for Legal Practice, which will now be conveniently located here in this main campus of the University. He added that both schools will learn from each other and compare notes and students will improve their chances of getting employed and successfully practising law after being exposed to further practical aspects. ‘I expect both schools to share matters of concern on the curriculum, its delivery, review, assessment, and the essentials that an aspiring lawyer should possess.’

Vice-Chancellor Nthambeleni said that the practical training of the University’s students is important in line with the changes in the labour market, and University of Venda fully supports the establishment of the School of Legal Practice, to which it will commit resources in terms of the MOA.

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

 

X