Participation in Africa Month

Participation in Africa Month

By Muchengeti Hwacha, Johannesburg Intern.

As an organisation that works to protect and promote the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers, ProBono.Org was invited to join a coalition of civil society organisations in planning events to celebrate Africa Day.

Given the recent xenophobic rhetoric from leaders across the political spectrum and the resultant violence it instigated, the coalition decided it was important to unite people around the hashtags ‘#AfricaForAll and #IAmAnAfrican’. The events were intended to engage with various stakeholders to address the causes of afro-phobia in South African society and the lack of government accountability when said phobia leads to violence and death. More importantly the events were intended to provide a space for open and honest dialogue that would breed common understanding among a divergent group of people.

 

The events included:

Youth Engagement at the University of Pretoria

This engagement with international students at the University of Pretoria was intended to get an understanding of what it is like to be a young foreign national living, working and studying in South Africa. The turnout was overwhelming and the engagements thought provoking. Issues of language barriers, tribalism and stereotyping were highlighted as key concerns among the youth population. ProBono.Org organised, catered for and moderated the event.

Youth Dialogue at the Diepkloof Welfare Centre

This dialogue, held in the heart of Soweto, brought a message of understanding and inclusiveness to the Diepkloof community. The event created a platform for three brilliant speakers from the refugee, migrant and asylum seeker community to share their experiences with Diepkloof residents. The ensuing dialogue brought out strong emotions from both the residents and the speakers. The raw emotions expressed, rather than being divisive, actually allowed for an open and honest interaction which led to a deepened understanding of one another. ProBono.Org assisted in organising and moderating the event

For media coverage on the Youth Dialogue follow the link below:
https://sowetourban.co.za/59194/ diepkloof-residents-given-insightsimmigration/

Stakeholder Dialogue at the Constitution Hill Precinct

This dialogue provided a platform for professionals who work to protect and promote the rights of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers to speak about their work and highlight the challenges facing this community. The event also allowed for government officials to respond to the criticisms laid against them by the professional group. This high level engagement created an opportunity for interaction and potential collaboration between civil society and government officials working in the space. ProBono.Org assisted in planning and formed part of the panel of civil society speakers. Tshenolo Masha, the head of the Refugee and Immigration department at ProBono.Org, spoke on the legal perspectives of the migrant experience.

Africa Day Festival at the Catholic Archdiocese, Doornfontein

After all the serious discussions mentioned above the coalition decided to create a more celebratory atmosphere with a festival held in the middle of Johannesburg. This event brought together people from 20 different African countries to share food, fashion and music. The programme included live musical performances, a fashion show and various other activities for the whole family. ProBono.Org assisted with financial and logistical support.

The following organisations participated:

The Foundation for Human Rights (FHR), The Consortium for Refugees and Migrants in SA (CoRMSA), Constitution Hill, Amnesty International, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), Africa Diaspora Forum (ADF), The Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), The Refugee Children’s Project, The SA Congress of Non profit Organisations (SACONO), the City of Johannesburg, the Department of Arts and Culture, the Department of Justice and the Action Support Centre (ASC).

Click here for our complete June 2019 Newsletter

<strong>Durban’s</strong> Appreciation Day

Durban’s Appreciation Day

Legal practitioners and stakeholders with whom we work gathered at the IIE’s Varsity College Durban North on Friday 26 April for our annual Appreciation Day event. This event is held to give recognition and thanks to legal practitioners who have made an exceptional contribution in rendering pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford them. It is heartwarming to see that despite no formalised rule from the Legal Practice Council making it compulsory to undertake a specified number of pro bono hours as yet, legal practitioners who are committed to a transformed and better society for all have continued to do so. These dedicated practitioners are to be commended and it is to be hoped that they will inspire others to emulate them.

Our keynote speaker was the esteemed Professor Karthy Govender who gave a thought-provoking talk. Amongst other things, he spoke about pushing back against the globilisation of indifference and assisting without getting something in return, which many attendees described as inspiring.

An event like this can never be a success without our kind and generous sponsors, which included IIE’s Varsity College Durban North, The Image Factor, Farrell Inc., Isibani Chartered Accountants and Auditors, Durban Property Finance, Virgin Action | Collection, PPS and Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr, to name a few. A huge thank you goes out to all of them!

 

Click here for our complete June 2019 Newsletter

<strong>National Elections</strong> – a mediator’s perspective

National Elections – a mediator’s perspective

By Muchengeti Hwacha, Johannesburg intern.

On 8 May 2019 South Africans went to the polls for national and provincial (general) elections for only the sixth time in the democratic Republic’s short 25 year history, and only the fifth time that the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) facilitated the election process. Despite that relatively short history the IEC has managed the monumental task of holding regular elections that have been deemed both free and fair by local, regional and international observers. At this critical time in South Africa’s democratic history I am proud to say that I assisted in a successful election process. Upon the recommendation of the national director, I was appointed to form a part of the IEC’s Gauteng conflict mediation panel. I was honoured to participate in deepening the roots of this fledgling democracy.

The IEC received a significant amount of criticism following the elections. However, at the risk of being deemed conflicted, I would like to provide some context for the enormous task that the IEC takes on every five years.

The IEC was formed on 17 October 1996 as one of the so called ‘Chapter Nine’ institutions, established under the Constitution. These institutions are tasked with strengthening constitutional democracy in the Republic. Under section 190 of the Constitution the IEC is specifically tasked with;

(a) managing the elections of national, provincial and municipal legislative bodies
(b) ensuring that those elections are free and fair, and
(c) declaring the results of those elections within a period that must be prescribed by national legislation and that is as short as reasonably possible.

These three tasks look simple enough, but have often been the cause of violent conflict the world over, and more recently with our SADC neighbours; Kenya, Zimbabwe and the DRC. The cautionary tale of property damage and loss of life that played out in these countries illustrates the weight that is on the IEC’s shoulders every election cycle. These fears were compounded by various incidents in the lead up to the 2019 general election, including;

  1. The flare up of xenophobic violence in Durban
  2. The service delivery protests in Alexandra
  3. The Western Cape High Court ruling that threatened to postpone the elections
  4. A Constitutional Court ruling that required the voters role to include addresses
  5. The threatened strike action by IEC employees

The IEC is constitutionally mandated to handle all the issues above and more. Above and beyond this, the IEC was required to train, equip and mobilise a labour force of over 200 000 employees and approximately 50 000 volunteers. This staff contingent was to be spread out across 28 700 polling stations across the country. The challenge is made more onerous when one takes into account that this has to be done in co-ordination with the South African Police Service, the South African Defence Force, the National Disaster Management Centre, the various media houses, political parties and over seventeen and a half million voters. There is no private or public institution that has to mobilise that number of people, over such a short space of time.

It is within this context that the IEC had to operate, and if the statements of the various domestic and international observer missions are anything to go by, the institution succeeded. The issues that were highlighted by a number of the smaller parties and noted by the larger ones were important but overwhelmingly immaterial and negligible.

As a conflict mediator I personally witnessed IEC officials, spurred on by a commitment to the South African democratic project, going above and beyond the call of duty to serve this Republic. In what some political leaders declared the most important elections since 1994, I was honored to serve alongside them.

 

Click here for our complete June 2019 Newsletter

Welcome to Cape Town’s 2019 interns

Three interns have recently joined the Cape Town office, made possible by the generous support of the HCI Foundation.

 

Melissa Engelbrecht

Melissa obtained her LLB degree from the University of the Western Cape in 2018. During her tertiary career she was a member of the Constitutional Literacy and Services Initiative (CLASI), which is primarily aimed at educating scholars on their basic human rights. Melissa’s goal is to give back to marginalised communities by providing pro bono legal assistance. Her areas of interest are property law and conveyancing.

 

Yolanda Mnyengeza

Yolanda obtained her LLB degree from the University of the Western Cape in 2017. In 2018 she was employed as a litigation intern by the Equal Education Law Centre based in Khayelitsha. Her role there revolved around assisting and informing parents, learners and schools about the basic right to education. Yolanda wants to work with previously disadvantaged groups in asserting their right to legal representation as well as access to justice.

 

 

Siphesihle Mayedwa

Siphesihle was born and bred in Khayelitsha, Cape Town. She obtained an LLB degree from the University of the Western Cape and a Postgraduate Certificate in Practical Legal Training from the University of Cape Town in 2019. She has always been passionate about social justice and is dedicated to adding value to underprivileged and previously disadvantaged communities. Siphesihle specifically chose law as a career path because she believes that it is continuously relevant to any context of life and has the ability to sharpen one’s mind. Her special interests are socio-economic rights and commercial law.
 

Click here for our complete June 2019 Newsletter

Welcome to our 2019 Joburg interns

Welcome to our 2019 Joburg interns

We are very pleased to be able to report that our 2018 interns were all offered articles with law firms and with Legal Aid South Africa.

Here are the new intakes for 2019 together with volunteer Zandi Mahlangu. We hope they have a rewarding and interesting time with us and that they will carry with them a passion for pro bono work and assisting the less fortunate.

 

Muchengeti (Chengi) Hwacha

Chengi comes from a long line of legal professionals. His grandfather was one of Zimbabwe’s first post-colonial black judges and his father is a founding partner of one of Zimbabwe’s top law firms. Following in the family’s footsteps Muchengeti completed an LLB at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (PMB). He has supplemented this qualification with Certificates from the University of the Witwatersrand in Intellectual Property Law and Banking and Financial Markets Law.

His first experience with ProBono.Org was as a volunteer at the Divorce Court help desk at the Johannesburg Family Court in August 2018. He was then brought on as an intern in the Child Law department in January 2019. He has had experience in public interest law, volunteering for organisations such as the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Africa, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Constitutional Literacy and Service Initiative (CLASI). During his tenure at ZLHR, where he worked on electoral law reform research, he developed a strong passion for activism on electoral issues. He developed this into a campaign for diaspora voting rights in Zimbabwe.

Listen to an interview he gave on the topic for Cliff Central Radio here

 

 

Phindile Cele

Phindile Cele was born in KwaZulu-Natal and completed her LLB degree at the University of South Africa in 2018.

She is currently doing a Master’s degree in Family Law. Before completing her degree she volunteered at Mason Attorneys doing vocational work; volunteering there was confirmation for her that she had chosen the right career path. She applied for an internship at ProBono.Org to gain exposure to various areas of law and help the less privileged. She has a passion to educate, which is a way of giving back to society; to ensure that the statement “justice for all” is not just a narrative to those who cannot afford legal services. “I am looking forward to learning and mastering the areas of law ProBono.Org specialises in, but mostly I hope to make an impact on the lives of those who need legal assistance”, she says. Phindile worked at the University of South Africa as a post-graduate student assistant for two years, assisting academics with research and admin work. “Working at UNISA exposed me to career opportunities available in the academic environment, and after I am admitted as an attorney I would love to pursue a career as an academic, specialising in family law.”

 

 

 

Mukhethwa Chauke

Mukhethwa was born and raised in Venda (Limpopo) and, like many people, moved to Gauteng to pursue tertiary education. He completed his LLB degree at the University of South Africa in 2018. He participated in the street law programme at university and was exposed to community work, where he realised that he is a social justice warrior. In 2018 he had an opportunity to volunteer at ProBono.Org in Johannesburg and was excited to be working in a legal environment for the first time. “Working with people from marginalised and under-privileged communities who have sensitive legal matters is something I have grown an intense interest in. I believe pro bono work should be a mandatory requirement for all legal practitioners.

 

Click here for our complete April 2019 Newsletter

Human Rights Festival 2019

Human Rights Festival 2019

By Margaret Fish

Over four days from 21 to 24 March the festival included poetry, art exhibitions, a film festival, the social forum, activism row, a music evening and We the People walks on the Sunday. In addition, there was a marquee with food stalls and a market where creatives sold their wares.

ProBono.Org had a stand in Activism Row and on Saturday morning we held consultations for people wanting assistance with family law issues. Our family law attorney and child law consultant, along with volunteer attorneys from Werksmans were on hand to provide advice.

Meanwhile, in Musina in Limpopo our refugee project manager attended a Human Rights Day annual soccer tournament that commemorated human rights with a special focus on refugee and migrant rights.

 

Click here for our complete April 2019 Newsletter

The Family House Project – forward we go!

The Family House Project – forward we go!

By Tshenolo Masha

Our collaboration with Dr Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham and the UK Social Research Council) on the Family House concept continues.

Following the launch of the Position Paper in July 2018, a public consultation was held to get feedback on the research from members of the public. The input identified a need for formal legal recognition of the concept. On 9 February 2019 a summarised version of the position paper was presented to 180 plus community members from Jabulani, Zola, Zondi and surrounding areas in Soweto. It was noted that in many instances when legal reform takes place there is no adequate substantive engagement with the affected communities. There have been many reforms around land ownership and inheritance in urban spaces, but it has previously not been adequately communicated or explained how these changes would affect the manner in which property is owned, administered and even accessed.

As the position paper’s research and case work focused on Soweto, this community was an obvious choice for public engagement. Through the Zola Advice Centre, young and old expressed their thoughts, feelings and experiences in relation to this concept. After going through the sections, community members gave feedback on the paper based on their lived experiences. A few assumptions were corrected but mostly the community members concurred that the family house is a concept that is alive within their community but is also difficult to define. The community also called for formal recognition of the concept and families that practise this concept should be able, through legal mechanisms, to register properties as family homes.

The input from this consultation and the consultation in July 2018 with academics, legal professionals and social justice organisations saw the development of a policy toolkit. This document identifies key legislation and state functionaries that should be explored in advocating for policy and legislative reforms in relation to this concept. The policy toolkit was launched officially on 26 March 2019 at Hogan Lovells. Speakers from The Deeds Office Johannesburg, Master’s Office Johannesburg, the Gauteng Provincial Legislature Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements, the South African Law Reform Commission and a conveyancing practitioner gave their inputs and feedback on the authors’ recommendations on action to be taken to ensure policy and legislative change. This will lead to more substantive engagements with state entities such as the Law Reform Commission and provincial departments for policy and legislative reforms.

Both documents and updates on developments on this project can be accessed here

Click here for our complete April 2019 Newsletter

The importance of estate planning and having a will in place

By Naeelah Williams, Cape Town

Estate planning can be defined as planning and preparing for the transfer of a person’s assets upon death. Policies, pension funds, immovable and movable property all form part of one’s deceased estate. However, so does one’s debts and liabilities.

This article aims to amplify the significance of estate planning and will elicit important factors to be considered when doing so.

Planning one’s estate is crucial to ensure that your loved ones are looked after when you pass on. Having a Will drafted is therefore a vital part of getting your financial affairs in order and the foundation of every person’s estate plan.

ProBono.Org Cape Town has seen a number of clients who require assistance with the winding up of a loved one’s estate, only to discover that the deceased estate does not have the necessary liquidity required to settle the debts in the estate, or that people who have never cared for the deceased are to inherit. In most instances this results in extremely trying times for the family members, heirs and dependants of the deceased.

Here are four important factors to consider when doing the necessary planning:

1. Have a Will drafted by a qualified professional.

There are certain formalities in terms of the Wills Act, 7 of 1953, that have to be complied with in order for a Will to be accepted as valid by the Master of the High Court. Many clients approaching ProBono.Org present Wills that often do not comply with all the prescribed formalities which, in essence, renders the Will invalid.

– Once drafted, it is of utmost importance to review your Will on a continuous basis and to ensure that it is up to date, especially after major life events such as death or divorce, and
– Leave clear directions with someone you trust as to where your Will can be found.

2. Take care of who you appoint as the Executor of your estate.

Understanding the importance of this becomes apparent when one understands the role of the Executor. The Executor is the person you appoint to be in charge of your financial affairs after your passing. The Executor’s role is an important one and it is essential that you consider whether the person you are appointing understands the responsibilities of administering a deceased estate.

3. Nominate legal guardians for your minor children.

This is of utmost importance if you have minor children. A testator has the freedom of testation and may appoint in his or her Will the person who will act as the children’s guardian upon his/her death. In almost all instances, the surviving parent becomes the guardian, and for this reason many people tend not to appoint a guardian when drafting a Will. However, we urge people who are in the process of getting their affairs in order to nominate a guardian in the event that the surviving parent passes away. This is essential as every parent would want the person acting as the guardian of their minor child/ren to give him/her the same love and care the parent would have given.

4. Consider how your debts may affect your estate.

The heirs to your estate are often burdened by the debt you incurred during your lifetime. It is thus important to be honest with your heirs and to start paying off your debt while you are still alive or, alternatively, to consider taking out some form of life or debt protection insurance.

It is of paramount importance to take heed of the implications of passing on without leaving a valid Will. In South Africa, if a person passes on without a valid Will, his/her estate will be administered in terms of the Intestate Succession Act, 81 of 1987. Intestate succession involves matters around ‘blood’ relationships. If one passes on intestate, one’s estate will be inherited by his/her closest blood relatives. This would entail that the deceased’s spouse will receive R250 000, 00 or a child’s portion, whichever is greater. The residue of the estate will be inherited by his/her children in equal shares. Should the deceased pass on without leaving behind a surviving spouse, the entire estate will be inherited by his/her children in equal shares. If the deceased passes away without being survived by a spouse, or any descendants, the estate will be inherited by his/her parents and thereafter by his/her closest blood relative/s.

Comprehending and dealing with the loss of a loved one is devastating. It is however advisable and strongly recommended that family members make contact with the Master of the High Court and all other relevant financial institutions as soon as is reasonably possible, as fraud and criminal activity are rife even during trying times such as death.

 

Click here for our complete April 2019 Newsletter

Section 17 of the Consumer Protection Act, the lacuna

By Sanele Zondi, Durban Intern

The Consumer Protection Act, 68 of 2008 (“the Act”), is one of the most important pieces of legislation for the indigent. The purpose of the Act as per section 3(1) is to promote and advance the economic and social welfare of the consumer by providing the legal framework for achieving a consumer market that is fair, accessible and responsible. The Act provides for a variety of consumer rights, but the most notable is section 17, which provides that consumers can now cancel reservations, bookings and orders, except for special ordered goods, and the supplier of the goods and services may impose a reasonable charge for cancellation.

The drafters of the Act however left a lacuna that the suppliers of goods and services have been able to exploit and use to their advantage. The term “reasonable charge” is not defined in the Act and as a result suppliers of goods and services often impose exorbitant cancellation charges to prevent consumers from cancelling their reservations, booking or orders, or to make a substantial profit despite the cancellation.

Looking at case law for an interpretation of a reasonable charge, we have found the case of Lombard V Pongola Sugar Milling where the court held that a reasonable charge/remuneration would be the usual charge for the goods. We need to consider the purpose of the Consumer Protection Act, that is to promote the economic and social welfare of consumers. Imposing exorbitant cancellation charges goes against the purpose of the Act as it creates an unfair and inaccessible market, especially to the indigent who were intended to be the beneficiaries of this legislation.

One respectfully submits that most suppliers of goods and services still follow and view cancellation of a reservation or order as repudiation and the imposition of a reasonable cancellation charge as restitution. This however, is not the approach that the Act envisages. The Act envisages the promotion of social and economic welfare of consumers and it is submitted that regulation of the reasonable charge is necessary.

 

Click here for our complete April 2019 Newsletter

Reflections from our Interns

We asked our interns to give us feedback on their experiences at ProBono.Org. Here is what some of them had to say:

Molebogeng Manyako

I joined the Joburg office of ProBono.Org as an intern on 15 January 2018. I am working under the supervision of the head of the Family Law, Labour Law and Wills department.

My experience at ProBono.Org has really challenged me and kept me very busy. I consult with clients and their Family Law matters on Mondays and Thursdays. On Wednesdays I assist with clients’ documents at the Family Law legal clinic at the office.

What I enjoy most is going to the Family Court every Tuesday to assist at the divorce help desk with consultations, drafting summonses and settlement agreements. Through this I have managed to gain confidence and say no where necessary.

I have sometimes encountered difficult clients, as well as the sweetest. I enjoy working with the Wills clients, especially the elderly as they always appreciate our assistance when they come to collect their Wills.

The road has not always been easy and sometimes I have even shed a tear. I have enjoyed working with attorneys and advocates from different firms and groups. One of my biggest highlights was when Advocate Hugh Mbatha told me that I am going to be a good lawyer one day. These words really humbled and encouraged me.

 

 

Akhona Mthembu

My journey at ProBono.Org.

As I look back on my days with ProBono.Org, I started off in 2015 as a volunteer at the Durban office. I remember the very first help desk I assisted at, which was Housing. It shook me. I came away very emotional as I had listened to the story of an elderly lady who was being evicted from her own house. It had been transferred to her son fraudulently and she was responsible for three of her grandchildren, who were all receiving child support grants. She herself was also receiving a government pension.

The thought of her and her grandchildren not having shelter not only touched me, but made me determined that one day I would be at ProBono.Org as an intern, so that I too could begin my journey of giving back to those less fortunate.

I started as an intern on 8 January 2018, and soon realised that being an intern is very different from volunteering. At my first three help desks we assisted more than 30 clients. Through this I gained vast knowledge about the law, as practice and theory have aspects that are different. I learnt that I would need to learn to link and apply what I had learnt to practice, in order to solve clients’ issues. I have also had good experiences and relationships with other ProBono.Org staff members. We have taught each other a lot about the law and life itself.
The entire experience has given me a new and broader outlook on life, the importance of assisting the less fortunate, on ethics, morals and the legal profession.

 

 

Zunaid Latief


Upon graduating with a law degree from the University of the Western Cape at the end of 2016, the harsh reality was that I had failed to secure employment in my field of study and had no alternative but
to explore other interim avenues in order to support my immediate family.

After months of drifting in mediocrity, I received an email from the HCI Alumni Programme, informing me that I had been shortlisted for an interview under the Legal Internship Programme between ProBono.Org Cape Town and the HCI Foundation. The interview proved successful and I commenced employment with ProBono.Org on 2 April 2018.

Initially I felt overwhelmed and slightly doubted my ability and legal knowledge. However, after a couple of months and with the mentorship and encouragement of my colleagues, the development of my skillset was evident and I gained a lot more confidence. I was exposed to many different aspects of the legal profession and I looked forward to learning on the job on a daily basis.

The Legal Internship Programme has allowed me to grow exponentially, both as a person and as a professional. It has equipped me with the necessary tools and skills to pursue a successful career as a legal practitioner. More importantly, it has placed me in a position where I can continue the theme of giving back to society.

This opportunity has served as a rude awakening to the harsh realities that ordinary South Africans have to endure. The brutal truth is that people from disadvantaged communities quite simply cannot afford the services of an attorney or advocate; and access to justice is a mere illusion for many. However, it has ignited a flame inside of me and spurred on my passion for social justice, which is what I believe I will really take away from this internship.

As my time with ProBono.Org draws to an end, I cannot properly express my gratitude to the organisation for providing me with this opportunity. My legal knowledge has increased tenfold and my personal development has been significant. While I still have lots to learn regarding this profession, I am confident that this internship has done enough to secure me employment in the future.

 

 

Click here for our complete February 2019 Newsletter

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