A workplace away from the workplace: A reflection on the supporting role of an organisation

A workplace away from the workplace: A reflection on the supporting role of an organisation

By Mattew December, Legal Intern, Cape Town

 

“What do you think the organisation can do for you and your personal development?” This was the stand-out question for me during my interview with ProBono.Org in Cape Town during December 2019. I thought for a second, and the answer I gave was that I had a clear indication that I wanted to be a part of this special organisation.

On 16 March 2020, it was the beginning of a new week and panic hit due to the novel coronavirus hitting South African shores at an unprecedented high. The uncertainty was visible on everyone’s faces and management engaged with staff about the fear of consulting with clients coming from all over the city and its outskirts. The support received was unbelievable as we were reassured that our health comes first and that measures would be put in place as soon as possible to protect us in the office.

After consultation with head office, management informed us that we would be working from home from 23 March and that our office would be closed indefinitely. The leadership shown by the management of the organisation was proactive and commendable as similar measures were then adopted as national policy when President Cyril Ramaphosa called a national lockdown in line with the Disaster Management Act. This illustrated the organisation’s commitment to the wellbeing of its staff.

Presently, the whole organisation has a WhatsApp support group and various support channels have been introduced at office and national level to assist every employee during these trying and uncertain times. The organisation has also shown foresight in rapidly introducing a model by which employees are able to work from home and still earn an income. It is no secret that there is presently no obligation for employers to pay salaries as staff are out of office, however ProBono.Org has continued to remunerate its employees on time since the lockdown period was declared.

It is undoubtedly a huge challenge to operate during these times, especially considering the nature of the organisation’s work and its limited resources. However, the model adopted by ProBono.Org has ensured that the organisation is able to continue with its mandate and facilitate access to justice for society’s marginalised. This is especially important as ProBono.Org has to convince donors and potential donors that the organisation is making an impact. This basically means that statistics are very important. Although the organisation offers assistance via email and WhatsApp, the majority of clients were people that visited the offices for consultations. This has of course been impossible during the lockdown, however, the organisation has introduced a hotline where people may seek assistance and the telephone and email lines continue to be operative.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on almost every facet of society. The invaluable role that ProBono.Org has played in the lives and wellbeing of its employees could surely be an example to other organisations on how to boost staff morale and maintain an effective level of productivity during this time. Everyone has a role to play in countering the effects of the pandemic and lockdown and as an employer ProBono.Org has risen to the occasion and provided proactive, decisive and supportive leadership. The role the organisation has played in supporting its staff is invaluable and one can only be grateful in knowing that it has been a privilege being part of such an incredible team.

 

 

Click here for our complete July 2020 Newsletter

Sayi Nindi and Meluleki Nzimande join the ProBono.Org Board

At their meeting in June 2020 the ProBono.Org board resolved to appoint two additional members to the board, Sayi Nindi and Meluleki Nzimande.

 

Sayi Nindi studied at the University of Pretoria where she graduated with an LLB and an LLM. She was admitted as an attorney in 2009. She worked at the Legal Resources Centre – Constitutional Litigation Unit – where she specialised in private sector accountability litigation.
Sayi has experience in Public Law, Administrative Law, Commercial Law, Employment Law, Class (Group) Actions, Constitutional Law, Business & Human Rights Law, Land claims, and Housing and Evictions Litigation.

Sayi has advised public entities, municipalities and government departments on appropriate procurement processes. She has also assisted with legal issues arising when tenders are evaluated and she has represented government where tender awards have been challenged. Moreover, she has advised on decisions that must be lawful, procedurally fair and reasonable. Sayi has also conducted judicial reviews of decisions made by the government and other organs of state.

Sayi has acted on behalf of communities and individuals who have challenged multinational corporations or multimillion-dollar projects over human rights violations. She has also acted as amicus curiae in a number of landmark cases.

She has acted for various corporate companies as well as state-owned entities in various labour disputes and has advised on the restructuring of businesses from an employment law perspective.

She has presented at various international conferences and workshops, including making submissions at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, and the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights in Banjul, Gambia. Sayi has given a lecture at the University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights in Business and Human Rights.

 

 

Meluleki Nzimande holds the position of Chief Commissioner, International Trade Administration Commission of South Africa. He has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry & Microbiology; and Bachelor of Laws from the University of the Witwatersrand.

Prior to taking up his present post, Meluleki was a Partner in the Corporate Department of the law firm Webber Wentzel, where he practised for approximately sixteen years, nine of which he spent as a Partner in that firm. He was a member of that firm’s International Trade Law Unit for approximately fifteen years. The Unit advised numerous multinational and South African companies and government on various areas of international trade law, including matters involving understanding and enforcing rights and obligations arising out of bilateral investment treaties, multilateral agreements such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO) General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, 1994, the General Agreement on Trade in Services, the Agreement on the Implementation of Article VI of GATT, 1994, the Agreement on Subsidies and Countervailing Measures and the WTO Agreement on Safeguards.

Prior to joining Webber Wentzel, Nzimande worked for Unilever South Africa (Pty) Ltd (Unifoods Boksburg factory) where he held various positions including those of assistant laboratory manager, shift manager in the margarine plant and production manager of the oil bottling plant.

Nzimande volunteers his time to social causes, including the Reverend LW Mbete Education Trust which provides stop-gap financial support to students at tertiary institutions. He is a member of the National Association of Democratic Lawyers (NADEL) and the current Chairperson of the Johannesburg branch of NADEL. He enjoys travelling, reading and spending time with family and friends.

 

 

Click here for our complete July 2020 Newsletter

Six Years Down the Road

By Shamika Dwarika, Regional Director, Durban

 

Change. Adapt. Those two words seem to embody the spirit of my time with ProBono.Org. Six years can seem like a lifetime, but for me it has gone by in the blink of an eye. I have been through numerous changes within the organisation, from new staff and management and expansion of our national footprint through new offices, to awards ceremonies and appreciation days. Through it all, our willingness and ability to adapt to change has been the key to our success as an organisation. In this time of COVID-19, this has never been truer or more necessary. We have found new ways to work and continue to grow – ways that would have seemed impossible when I joined ProBono.Org on 1 July 2014. Few people find their passion in life and even fewer are able to make their passion their career. I have been one of those fortunate people. I have also been very fortunate to be based in Durban, with a panel of private attorneys who are dedicated and committed to undertaking pro bono work and partners who see value in what we do and provide support to us. Being at an organisation such as this, knowing and being able to see tangible proof of the help we provide to people, has been rewarding beyond words. For, as we all know, not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

 

 

Click here for our complete July 2020 Newsletter

New Appointments

New Appointments

Teresa Yates has been appointed as the National Director of ProBono. Org. She was until recently Deputy National Director of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC). Besides legal training, she has a background in human rights and development on the continent. In her 22 years of experience she has worked in NGOs, for government and as an independent researcher and evaluator. She has acquired not only a range of important management skills, but has also been directly involved in strategic planning, law reform and policy development, fundraising and budgeting, monitoring and writing, and leading diverse teams. Teresa led substantial design work on Alternative Dispute Resolution in the Department of Land Affairs in the 2000s, where she worked in the Tenure Directorate. She has as gender justice coordinator with Oxfam in Tanzania, the South African government and Nkuzi Development Association, a South African land organisation focusing specifically on farm workers, land rights and land reform.

We are honoured to have Teresa join the ProBono.Org team.

 

Mpho Mogodi

After matriculating from King Edward VII High School, Mpho enrolled for a BA at Wits University to major in International Relations and Political Science. He then graduated with an LLB degree from the University of South Africa in 2017.

Mpho’s love for the law stems from wanting to bring about positive change and to advocate against social ills and injustices. He also strongly believes in the value of being of service to others.

In his spare time Mpho enjoys mountain biking, meditating, studying philosophy and trying out Johannesburg’s restaurants.

Mpho initially joined the organisation on a three-month contract to take on the land and housing and deceased estate matters. This contract has been extended for a further nine months and we are very pleased to have him as part of the ProBono.Org team.

 

Click here for our complete October 2019 Newsletter

Where there’s a Will, there’s a Way

By Sinothile Zondi, Durban intern

 

National Wills Week 2019 ran from 16 to 20 September. Everyone wishes for their assets to be distributed to their preferred loved ones when they pass. To achieve this however, one needs to draft a valid Will, which will ensure that everything that remains of one’s assets after all debts and administration costs have been subtracted will be inherited by one’s preferred heirs. To assist clients in ensuring that they have a valid Will, the Durban office of ProBono.Org ran Wills help desks at various venues in Durban during the month of September.

The main function of the Master of the High Court’s office is to supervise the administration of deceased estates. In this regard, ProBono. Org Durban worked closely with the Office of the Master of the High Court, as well as numerous pro bono private attorneys, in providing elderly members of the community who attended our Wills Week help desks with the required legal services to draft or update their Wills. This ensures that their wishes are followed after their passing. From 16 to 20 September we held a daily Wills help desk at the Office of the Master of the High Court, Durban. We also held a Wills help desk at the Wentworth Organisation of Women (WOW) on 16 September.

Lastly, from 25 to 27 September we held a Wills help desk at the Nelson Mandela Chatsworth Youth Centre. In addition to the help desks, we held seminars at the KZN Deaf Association, in Montclair and at the KZN Blind and Deaf Society to educate the community about the importance and benefits of having a Will and what would happen if one passed away without having a valid Will in place. Through these initiatives we successfully assisted a number of clients with drafting Wills and providing information to those who needed it. In total we drafted 155 wills during the week.

The Johannesburg office also took part in Wills Week at various courts in conjunction with the Department of Justice, providing information on wills and inviting people to have their wills drafted by pro bono attorneys.

 

Click here for our complete October 2019 Newsletter

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) – Diversity Training Programme for ProBono.Org and law firm affiliates

By Swazi Malinga

ProBono.Org identified the need to sensitise our staff on all aspects of sexual diversity and inclusivity. We engaged Enza, an accredited training provider specialising in gender diversity. The training was offered in three sessions spread over three months.

The programme aimed to sensitise legal practitioners who provide services to their LGBTI clients and focused specifically on the health and justice service needs of the LGBTI community, especially those targeted for hate crimes because of their sexual orientation or gender non-conformity. The intention was to stimulate dialogue by creating a space for shared learning and problem solving. Sensitising frontline legal workers improves access to treatment and care for vulnerable groups.

The training curriculum was made up of the following modules:

Module 1: Intersectionality
Module 2: Gender & Sexuality Sensitisation
Module 3: Understanding Health & Justice Needs
Module 4: Creating A Welcoming & Safe Environment
Module 5: Gender, Sexuality And The Law
Module 6: Understanding Hate Crimes
Module 7: Being Transgender

 

Click here for our complete August 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

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

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

The dead man’s property

The dead man’s property

By Neliswa Ncama, Durban intern

The passing of a loved one is one of the most challenging experiences that a family has to face. After a funeral, they are left to pick up the pieces and figure out how to proceed after this tragedy. The family would have to begin the process of winding up the estate by reporting the death to the Master of the High Court. A number of issues may arise at this point; one of them being the transfer of the property once the estate has been wound up.

A conveyancer is needed to handle the transfer of the property so that the ownership of the property vests in the heir. In theory, this may seem to be the sensible approach considering the complexity of transfer matters. However, it is hard for the poor and marginalised to be able to afford these services, as conveyancers’ costs are just too high. In the event that the family is able to raise the money to pay a conveyancer, or organisations such as ProBono.Org are willing and able to assist with this transfer, the family is still faced with the challenge of ensuring that utilities and rates are paid up to date, in order to receive a clearance certificate before transfer can take place.

ProBono.Org is only able to assist in matters where the value of the estate is below R250 000 and where the client is able to pay the disbursement costs, which would include transfer costs required by the Deeds Office. In the instance that someone is unable to access pro bono services, they would also be required to pay the costs of a private attorney. While the rationale is that the estate will cover such costs, the reality is that often the only asset in the estate is the house that needs to be transferred. Payment arrangements may also be made with a private attorney, but this just means that the process may take years to complete.

These expenses are the reason why many families do not have title deeds to a property. Without them, the family may still have security of tenure (or rights in the property) but these are incomplete as the heir/s are still unable to fully exercise their rights. If the heir is unable to get the property transferred, issues such as encroachment of property, payment of utilities and the ability to evict others from the property are difficult, and sometimes. impossible, for the heir to deal with, as proof of ownership is required.

The time has come when the Deeds Office needs to cater for the poor, who make up the majority of our population. The Deeds Office should put in place systems to assist a lay person with the transfer of property. Many other government institutions allow a lay person to transact on their own. An example of this is where the Master’s Office allows a lay person to report a deceased estate valued below R250 000, without requiring them to appoint an attorney. This is a massive cost saving for a poor person. Alternatively, there should be some sort of government subsidy or loan that families in this position could apply for in order for property rights to be attained by the most vulnerable in society. The death of a loved one should not be the reason why a family’s dignity is compromised and puts them in a situation where they do not own their own home.

Click here for our complete December 2018 Newsletter

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