Wills Week at ProBono.Org

By Swazi Malinga

As part of our community outreach, we conduct workshops to create awareness about the importance of having a Last Will and Testament. We regularly visit communities in areas like Orange Farm, Tembisa and Kagiso. When a client approaches our offices with a request to draft a will, we send a request to our panel of volunteer attorneys and, depending on their availability, they will take on one or two wills drafting requests at a time. Although this process works, it does take a long time and we sometimes receive at least ten client requests a week, which then results in a backlog. We therefore decided to embark on a ProBono.Org Wills Week from 23 to 27 July 2018, which coincided with the Mandela Centenary celebrations.

We are proud to announce that during the week we were able to draft 100 wills for our clients. We would like to extend our gratitude to the following law firms who volunteered their time and drafted these wills: Maponya Attorneys, Ndangije Attorneys, Klopper Jonker Attorneys, Norton Rose Fulbright SA and Werksmans Attorneys.

 

Click here for our complete August 2018 Newsletter

Women’s Day 2018

ProBono.Org Johannesburg held our annual Women’s Day event on 15 August, which was attended by 87 women from Orange Farm, Kagiso, Tembisa and Dobsonville. Grateful thanks to everyone who assisted us to make this day special:

  • Our guest speaker Sibongile Baloyi, acting head of the UNISA Law Clinic, who addressed the audience on customary marriages
  • NGOs who came and spoke about their work, including Legal Aid SA, who gave out T-shirts and water bottles, the S A History Archive, the Advisory and Information Centre Law Clinic, and the Teddy Bear Clinic who provided teddy bears.
  • Third and final year law students from UNISA, WITS, UJ and one of our previous interns who were our volunteers on the day.
  • Over 15 lawyers who volunteered their time to hold individual consultations with women who needed legal advice.
  • Mjele Msimang who volunteered to take the photos.

 

Click here for our complete August 2018 Newsletter

ProBono.Org Durban’s Appreciation Day 2018

ProBono.Org Durban’s Appreciation Day 2018

By Shamika Dwarika

 

The Durban office of ProBono.Org hosted its third annual Appreciation Day on 20 April at Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal. The occasion is an opportunity for us to thank the attorneys who have given generously of their services on a pro bono basis, as well as expressing our  gratitude to some of our partners. Several legal practitioners received certificates for their outstanding pro bono work. Mr Ravin Jankhi, the storyteller MC, got into the spirit of the event and rendered his services on a pro bono basis. The event saw the Judge President of the KZN High Court, Judge Jappie, give a motivational keynote address. The main sponsor for this year’s event was LexisNexis.

 

Click here for our complete June 2018 Newsletter

Mediation at ProBono.Org

By Swazi Malinga.

 

As part of our service to the community, we offer pro bono mediation. We have a panel of qualified and dedicated mediators who are readily available to assist our clients. In the family law context, we offer mediation to parents of minor children, often parents who are not married to each other, who cannot decide on a workable co-parenting arrangement. A mediator tries to assist them to enter into an agreement that they are happy with and that will promote the best interests of their minor child. The parenting plan will deal with the care and contact of the child, which will include visitation schedules and primary residence, and in some instances the parents may even agree on the religion the child should follow. An important factor is that of maintenance, which is often an issue in dispute between parents. To clients getting divorced, we offer mediation of settlement agreements which will also incorporate a parenting plan. This allows the divorcing parents to decide and negotiate their own terms and conditions.

Mediation can be challenging because many people still believe that going to court is the best and only way of resolving disputes. Some clients do not regard mediation as a legal process, do not take it seriously, and fail to turn up on the day of the mediation session. Our task therefore also entails creating awareness about the importance and benefits of mediation. We conduct workshops in communities to explain that mediation is much cheaper and has the ability to resolve disputes speedily, rather than engaging in lengthy and costly litigation. However, our problems don’t end there, as we also face some degree of resistance from our colleagues in the legal profession, who may be representing the other party, and reject a suggestion of mediation as they fear losing out on their fees. We are pro mediation, as it provides a safe ground for the parties and all discussions that take place during the sessions are confidential and thus cannot be used in a court of law save for the final written agreement by the parties. We are mindful that not all disputes can be mediated, but feel that clients should be offered this option. If more legal practitioners encourage mediation, more clients and the community at large will take mediation seriously and regard it as an effective alternative dispute resolution.

 

Click here for our complete June 2018 Newsletter

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By Elsabe Steenhuisen.

In short, the answer is “yes”. The reasoning, with reference to case law, follows below.

1. What does the Common Law state?

The Common Law position is that children below the age of seven are infans and cannot act. A curator or a guardian has to act on behalf of the child. If children are over the age of seven, but under 18, they must be assisted either by a curator or their guardian. If the guardian is not available, the court must appoint a curator on motion proceedings.

2. Did the case law change this position?

Yes, by a gradual process, which is still developing. In 2000, in the Christian Education South Africa case, the court held that in a case concerning children, their “actual experiences and opinions would not necessarily have been decisive, but they would have enriched the dialogue, and the factual and experiential foundations for the balancing exercise in this difficult matter would have been more secure.”

In 2003 in the Soller case the court appointed a legal representative for the child, to whom the child gave instructions directly and without assistance of a guardian or curator ad litem.

In 2008 the court in the Pillay case remarked that the need for the child’s voice to be heard is perhaps even more acute when it concerns children mature for their age, who should be increasingly taking responsibility for their own actions and beliefs.

In 2009 the Legal Aid Board acted for a 12 year old girl. The court ruled that the Board did not need to obtain consent of either the court or the child’s guardian to represent a child. This was confirmed further in 2011 by the Supreme Court of Appeal when the Board acted in the Four Children case, and in 2012 in the Brossy case.

3. What does the legislation require?

The Child Justice Act merely requires “a parent/guardian/other suitable person” to assist child offenders who instruct their legal practitioners themselves. The Children’s Act allows representation of a child without a guardian. Some magistrates in the Children’s Courts require an application by the legal practitioner to allow the child to be represented. The Divorce Act allows the court to appoint a legal practitioner to represent a child at the proceedings and may order the parties or any one of them to pay the costs of the representation.

Section 28(1)(h) of the Bill of Rights provides that: “Every child has the right to have a legal practitioner assigned to the child by the state at state expense, in civil proceedings affecting the child, if substantial injustice would otherwise occur”. In the Van Niekerk case in 2005 the Centre for Child Law was allowed to apply ex parte for the appointment of a legal representative in terms of s28(1)(h) for two girls, without their guardian’s consent. ProBono.Org agrees with the Centre for Child Law that this section does not preclude registered legal organisations to secure legal representation for children. Section 28(1)(h) does not give the state exclusive rights in this respect.

In conclusion, if any person (who qualifies in terms of the means test) approaches ProBono.Org for assistance, we will obtain representation without the guardian’s permission, and if necessary the legal practitioner will obtain the court’s permission to act on behalf of the child, because we interpret the current state of the law as not to limit a child’s right to legal representation. We acknowledge Professor Ann Skelton of the Centre for Child Law, who dealt with this issue during a ProBono.Org breakfast on 18 October 2017, and thank her for the notes she made available for use by ProBono.Org. Full case references are available on request.

 

Click here for our complete June 2018 Newsletter

Attorney Profiles

Delia Jay


Durban attorney Delia Jay recently concluded a very interesting family law matter. When the client came to us at the pro bono desk, she had been turned away by everyone and told there was nothing that anyone could do to help her get divorced. She needed to get divorced as she had a new partner with whom she had had a child. The client’s husband was a Nigerian and he left South Africa 15 years ago. Despite client’s efforts, he could not be located.

Delia contacted a tracing agent to do a search for the husband, but he could not be found. In the end, Delia had to make an application for substituted service to get an interim order on affidavit stating that she could advertise in Canada, where client had last received a phone call from her husband in 2002. The order was granted and Delia personally raised the money to advertise in the Toronto Star, which was about R10 000 because of the poor exchange rate. ($ 1000 Canadian dollars). Delia advertised and the court finally agreed to set the matter down.

There were many delays, largely because dealing with the Durban Regional Magistrate’s Court, trying to get documents issued and a court date granted were very challenging. At times Delia felt like she was on a lone crusade and wanted to give up. It was also time consuming, as being a sole practitioner she had to attend to everything herself, including indexing and paginating, and making sure her file didn’t get lost. The magistrate eventually heard the matter on 10 April 2018 and granted the divorce. Delia feels a great deal of satisfaction in having finally achieved a happy result for the client so that she can move on with her life and her family.

 

Chrysi Kripotos


Chrysi Kripotos is an attorney practising in her own firm in Johannesburg. She is a conveyancer who has been in practice for 34 years.

The ProBono.Org Deeds Office help desk opened its doors at the Deeds Office in Johannesburg in June 2017. Chrysi has been part of the help desk since then. Chrysi says that she loves helping people who cannot afford legal services and that attending the help desk is the highlight of her week.

Chrysi has assisted clients with property transfers, donations, correction of names in the title deed, transfers from deceased estates, drafting of wills as well as section 17, 45 and 93 registrations.

Chrysi gets really frustrated when she is unable to assist clients. She feels that the help desk needs more qualified attorneys to assist with clients’ problems due to the number of people seeking help and that more days should be allocated in order to assist the indigent.

Some of the challenges include consulting with clients who coerce their elderly parents to make transfers in their favour. The consulting attorney has to ask the relevant questions in order to determine whether the transfer is in good faith and that the elderly parents are aware of the legal implications. Another challenge often encountered is the transfer of property from household permits to a title deed in terms of the Conversion of Certain Rights into Leasehold or Ownership Act. This has resulted in many clients seeking legal assistance at the help desk in order to reverse property transfers. Many of these transfers have divided families and it is unfortunate that many people still do not know about an Act that affects their lives so profoundly.

 

Portia Tsele, our latest Johannesburg intern


We welcomed Portia to the team in May and she is working with the Housing, Refugee and Community Advice Office unit.

She has an LLB from UNISA and is working towards an LLM in Property Law with the same university. She began her journey with ProBono.Org as a volunteer. Her reason for studying law was to give her the opportunity to help people. Working at ProBono.Org as a legal intern extends the reach of her charitable nature and enables her to assist the vulnerable and indigent members of our society.

Outside of work she is a member of the Catholic Women’s League and engages in their social welfare activities such as child adoption.

Portia hopes that her continued passion for assisting the marginalised and vulnerable in society helps her to make a meaningful contribution to the legal fraternity.

 

Click here for our complete June 2018 Newsletter

Welcome to Michelle Odayan – ProBono.Org’s new National Director

Welcome to Michelle Odayan – ProBono.Org’s new National Director

We are delighted to announce the appointment of Michelle Odayan as the National Director of ProBono.Org as from April 2018. She is a nonpractising Advocate of the High Court of South Africa (BA.LLB), a social entrepreneur and the co-founder of the Indiba–Africa Group, a human and rights centered development practice. Her personal and professional life is anchored around values-based leadership and an ethical rights, responsibilities and social justice discourse.

Michelle has substantive experience working with government, the private sector and civil society stakeholders on a wide range of cross cutting social and economic capacity building interventions, business and human rights integration, skills development and technological advancement. Over the past 25 years she has led diverse teams and was accountable for multimillion rand development project portfolios supported by international donor and government investments.

Michelle has skills and experience in board governance, strategy and policy development, executive management, programme design, total impact monitoring and evaluation, resource mobilisation and capacity development. She has worked in the fields of Business and Human Rights, Employment and Equality Law, Gender and Women’s Rights, Local Economic Development, Skills Planning and Development, Corporate Social Responsibility, Sustainable Development, Access to Justice and Rule of Law, Democracy and Governance, and in Alternative Dispute Resolution. Since 2000, she was instrumental in the planning and execution of public private partnership projects that were critical for the transformation of the South African justice system and is considered one of a handful of justice sector reform practitioners in Africa.

She has held formal positions with ACCORD, Olive OD&T, Business Against Crime (BACSA), Agenda Feminist Media and the National Centre for State Courts (USA). She is actively involved in a variety of professional associations, holds several Board directorships and is a fellow of the African Leadership Initiative, the Aspen Global Leadership Network (US) and an alumnus of the Cambridge and Prince of Wales Sustainable Leadership Programme (UK). In 2012 – 2013 she was a ministerial appointee to the National Task Team on Sexual Offences Legislation & the Re-Establishment of Sexual Offences Courts. She also served on the President’s Working Group on Women (PWGW) from 2005 – 2007 and remains a vociferous champion for women’s rights and equality.

We are very fortunate to have her as the leader of ProBono.Org and hope all our partners and colleagues will welcome her to the team.

 

Click here for our complete April 2018 Newsletter

Durban office welcomes staff attorney Seshni Govender

Change is inevitable and every organisation goes through staffing changes. However, while we frequently see interns leave after a year or two, the Durban office has welcomed a new staff attorney, Seshni Govender. Seshni joins us from private practice where she primarily worked on family law and criminal matters. She has an LLB degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal (Howard College). In the short time that she has been with us, Seshni has shown herself to have the drive necessary for an NGO such as ours by putting in the effort and ensuring that the work gets done. The Durban office welcomes her young blood and fresh ideas and looks forward to entering a new era with her.

Seshni deals with the family, labour and refugee portfolios at our office. In addition, she runs the Chatsworth, Verulam, KZN Deaf Association and Umlazi help desks. She will also be dealing with the street traders’ project that our office oversees. Attorneys interested in assisting with any of these can email her on seshni@probono.org.za.

 
Click here for our complete April 2018 Newsletter

The Department of “Happiness Affairs”

The Department of “Happiness Affairs”

By Zekhethelo Cele, Legal Intern, Cape Town

 

On 6 April ProBono.Org Cape Town together with Sonke Gender Justice, the Legal Resources Centre, the South African Human Rights Commission, UCT Refugee Law Clinic, Scalabrini, Resilience Africa and UNIFAM held an awareness event as part of their mission to ensure that the Cape Town Refugee Reception Office (CTRRO) reopens and is fully functional.

The Director General of Home Affairs decided to close the CTRRO to new applicants for asylum after 29 June 2012, which the Western Cape High Court ruled was unlawful. The court ordered that the CTRRO be reopened by 1 July 2013, but the Director General took the decision on appeal. Consequently, on 26 September 2017 the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the Western Cape High Court’s decision, stating that the Department of Home Affairs’ decision to close the CTRRO was both unlawful and irrational, citing the Department’s responsibilities towards the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, and ordered the CTRRO to reopen by 30 March 2018.

Despite the constitutional implications of closing the office, the Department of Home Affairs had argued that the CTRRO was closed due to the undesirability and difficulty in operating urban Refugee Reception Offices. It further stated that the location of Cape Town is unfavorable due to many asylum seekers entering South Africa through its northern borders. In spite of the latest court ruling, it was apparent that the CTRRO would not reopen to assist new asylum seekers by 30 March 2018 as per the court order. As civil society representatives, our purpose is to ensure that the Department of Home Affairs, the Ministry and the Director General are held accountable and remain answerable to the public in this regard, as they stand in contempt of court.

We have made various attempts to find out when the office will reopen, but representatives from the CTRRO advised that they need to secure new premises first and allege that the Department of Public Works has been delaying the process. When asked why they needed to obtain new premises since the current office was fully functional before it closed its doors to new asylum seekers, we were advised that they did not have the mandate to answer this question.

As civil society representatives, we are well aware of the hardships that new asylum seekers in Cape Town have to go through to get their papers. The logistical implications are simply unreasonable and very unfair. People have to travel long distances to either Pretoria, Durban or Musina, regardless of where they are living in the country. This involves asylum seekers in the Western Cape and surrounding provinces having to travel to these cities at their own expense, taking days off work and being forced to keep their children out of school for the duration of their trip. Even then, it is not guaranteed that they will be assisted within a day, since the lines are exceptionally long and the process itself a dreadful one that could take months and even years to finalise.

ProBono.Org together with other NGOs believe that this situation is dire, and the rights of asylum seekers are being undermined.

We have been tirelessly appealing to the Department of Home Affairs and the Minister to prioritise the reopening of the CTRRO. Its closure has given rise to gross constitutional implications and the effects thereof will have a negative impact on South Africa’s interactions with neighboring countries.

As NGOs, we have dubbed ourselves “The Department of Happiness Affairs” and asylum seekers and the general public participated in the 6 April awareness event. We hope that this event has regained the attention of the relevant departments to ensure that the court order is not simply lost in processes and swept under the rug.

 
Click here for our complete April 2018 Newsletter

Practitioner Profile

Practitioner Profile

By Masechaba Modise, Legal Intern

 

Emily Ruth West is a young, vibrant legal practitioner, practising at Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr. She was born in Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu-Natal. She obtained her law degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and relocated to Johannesburg to commence her articles with the firm in 2015. In May 2017 she was admitted as an attorney and is now an associate working in the Trust and Estates department.

The Trust and Estates department specialises in the administration of deceased estates, trust matters, wills and estate planning. As part of their initiative to give back to the community and serve their pro bono hours, Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr has practitioners who volunteer at the Master’s Office Help Desk and Emily is one of them.

The Master’s Help Desk is located at the Master of the High Court, Johannesburg and assists destitute and indigent members of the public who need assistance with either reporting and administration of a deceased estate, estate planning and general legal advice pertaining to deceased estates.

Although this is a great avenue for the practitioners, Emily often encounters challenges which are common but not limited to reporting and administering estates worth R250 000 or more and where the only asset in the estate is immovable property, often indebted to the municipality.

The biggest challenge however has been dealing with and advising on deceased estates where she has to explain the non-existent notion of a “family house” and the interpretation of ownership in terms of legislation applicable to the country. More often than not the clients become confused and agitated, especially because most of them do not understand the distinction between the customary context and the legal interpretation of ownership, but as a legal practitioner one has to apply the law as is and allow the client to learn and understand the concepts. As Emily says, “ It’s daunting but someone has to do it, and unfortunately that someone is me sometimes.”

Given its challenges, Emily and the firm generally love to assist with pro bono work as they get to engage with the actual people. The firm predominantly deals with corporate matters, so to have the opportunity to work and help actual people who may not under ordinary circumstances be able to afford such legal services is fulfilling. To quote Emily, “We sit in our comfortable offices in Sandton but once you step out to go and staff the Help Desk you get exposed to a whole different world, where the reality of how many people cannot afford basic legal assistance because of their financial difficulties stares you in the face. That experience on its own is enough to make any practitioner want to assist in any way possible”.

Emily believes that with more initiative from legal practitioners and relevant stakeholders the Administration of Deceased Estates Act can be amended to accommodate the indigent and vulnerable.

 

Click here for our complete April 2018 Newsletter