In collaboration with the Nelson Mandela Foundation (NMF), ProBono.Org held a dialogue on Nelson Mandela the legal practitioner on 11 October to mark the centenary of Madiba’s birth.
The conversation was the first of several planned to start a conversation about the importance of pro bono work and the ethics and values needed to reshape the profession to be more public-spirited. The conversation was started by Sahm Venter, senior researcher at the NMF, who emphasised the importance of pro bono work during apartheid and the work of the Independent Defence and Aid Fund (IDAF) established by Canon John Collins of St Paul’s Cathedral to defend political activists.
Former Constitutional Court Judge Albie Sachs spoke about how Madiba the lawyer was a commanding presence in a courtroom. He stressed the importance of not seeing Mandela the lawyer as a conflict with Mandela the revolutionary. He used the law to make a living and also to fight for his people in court. His legal experience also helped him when it came to drafting the Constitution.
Lwando Xaso, senior associate at ENSafrica, found Mandela’s speech about being “a black man in a white man’s court” relevant today for young black lawyers in law firms where they are expected to dress and act according to the firm’s culture and thereby feel they are losing their own culture and feel alienated in their workplaces. It is sad that even as transformation is on people’s lips and in their policies, they do not make an effort to get to know their black lawyers. Several audience members, who were mainly young black lawyers, echoed this feeling. One said that she had found that in her community people did not know about the Constitution and she felt she could give back by educating them about the law.
ProBono.Org National Director, Michelle Odayan, who facilitated the dialogue, said that legal practitioners who give their time and experience to provide access to justice should not be regarded as poor and inferior. We are planning to hold further dialogue sessions on topical issues in 2019 as part of our young lawyer development programme.