Thanking our Pretoria pro bono lawyers

by Neo Chokoe.

 

Screen-Shot-2017-04-24-at-1.36.30-PMOn 6 April 2017 ProBono. Org Pretoria hosted its first Lawyers Appreciation Ceremony to say thank you to the lawyers that have done pro bono work in collaboration with its office. The event was attended by 38 guests including Judge Mudau from the Gauteng Division, Johannesburg.

The Pretoria manager, Neo Chokoe welcomed the guests and thanked the sponsors who made the event possible through their donations. They were Maponya Inc, R W Attorneys, Savage Jooste & Adams, Lexis Nexis, Gildenhuys Malatji, Hahn & Hahn, Rudolph Jansen SC and R O Waters.

Ms Baitseng Rangata, the CEO of Maponya Inc and Secretary General of the Black Lawyers Association addressed the gathering on the importance of serving members of the community on a pro bono basis. She mentioned that the Black Lawyers Association is committed to pro bono work and will continue to encourage its members to do more. She stressed that it feels good just to be appreciated and that a ‘’thank you’’ goes a long way even when it does not come with monetary reward.

Ms Erica Emdon, the National Director of ProBono. Org, thanked the lawyers for their commitment to pro bono work before handing out the certificates of appreciation.

 

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Celebrating Human Rights Day with children<br/> – 21 March 2017

Celebrating Human Rights Day with children
– 21 March 2017

by Elsabe Steenhuisen.

A special day for the children in homes in the inner city of Johannesburg was organised by Lefika La Phodiso at the restaurant area at Constitution Hill. One of the organisations participating was the Art Therapy Centre, which uses art to assist children to deal with their emotions, to develop self-esteem and to develop skills in art.

The theme was about safe spaces and what is required to create a safe physical and emotional environment for children, in line with the Constitution.

The guest speakers were Advocate Elsabe Steenhuisen of ProBono.Org and Luke Lamprecht, a social worker who chairs the Johannesburg Child Advocacy Forum (JCAF).

Elsabe Steenhuisen demonstrated to the children how the law is creating safe spaces for children in need. She filled a glass bottle with sand, stones and water to illustrate that the law keeps children safe just as the bottle keeps the stones. Children should know that even if a situation seems hopeless, the law can still create a safe space, like the sand and water that finds a gap between the little stones.

Luke Lamprecht conducted a question and answer session on the rights of children. The children talked about food, shelter, education, love, discipline, guidance, protection, respect, a safe environment and the time to play.

The event ended with lunch and music by Zwai Bala.

 

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Partnering for a good cause<br/> – upcoming Durban Event

Partnering for a good cause
– upcoming Durban Event

by Shamika Dwarika.

Violence against women takes various forms and ProBono.Org sees the impact of violence and abuse of women at our numerous help desks at all our offices. That is why ProBono.Org Durban has partnered with the 1000Women Initiative to be the local host and beneficiary of the 1000 Women event in 2017. The 1000 Women Initiative aims to mobilise “1000 Women to Unite against Domestic Violence”.

This event was launched in 2004 in Cape Town and today hosts three events nationally, in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. The objective is to raise awareness about genderbased violence and to assemble resources so that women have access to skills and training. The profits from these events go to women-led organisations that facilitate change in their communities. On 3 November 2016, ProBono.Org Durban attended the 1000 Women Initiative event for the first time where we were able to witness the relevance and impact of this event. Having seen the potential of this organisation, we are delighted to partner with them.

The Durban event will be an enjoyable brunch on 18 August 2017. Tickets will be sold at R350.00 per person, or R3000.00 per table of ten. All proceeds from the event will go to ProBono.Org to support workshops we hold on domestic violence, our domestic violence help desks, and women clients who are experiencing domestic violence. There will be guest speakers and a variety of entertainment, and attendees will have an opportunity to network. We encourage you to support this campaign and take a stand against domestic violence and abuse. Watch this space for developments such as an announcement of the venue and where tickets will be available.

Litigating for Social Change Conference:<br/> 19 – 21 October 2016

Litigating for Social Change Conference:
19 – 21 October 2016

by Erica Emdon.


A conference was held in Belfast during October bringing together NGOs, community activists, litigators, academics and funders to reflect on the extent to which strategic litigation can transform lives and enable people and communities to realise their rights. With speakers from different geographic and legal settings, the conference explored:

  • Lessons learnt from the use of test case litigation to date
  • Strategic litigation as a tool for promoting social justice
  • Models and approaches to supporting strategic litigation

A session was held that dealt with a range of different models by which strategic litigation can be supported as a tool for realising social justice. I was asked to consider the role of pro bono attorneys and advocates in supporting strategic litigation and the relative advantages and disadvantages of the pro bono model.

There was great interest in the pro bono model, particularly in the context of the diminishing funding available from the state in the UK and other countries to fund civil legal services for the poor.

I gave a brief history of ProBono.Org and how it was set up originally with Atlantic Philanthropies funding. I looked at how ProBono.Org is part of a wider spectrum of organisations providing access to justice, stating that we are demand driven and not in a position to select matters. However we are in a position to use the high numbers of cases opened to lead us towards impact litigation. I covered a range of issues in my talk including the following –

  • The fact that in South Africa we have been helped by the pro bono rule and the situation that some firms have pro bono departments, some with great litigation capacity;
  • That the size of a law firm determines to some extent the type of pro bono work they do, with small firms undertaking individual matters and the larger more well resourced to take on impact cases;
  • The individual work done by lawyers in both the big and small firms often has a high impact on one person’s life in, for example, domestic violence, refugee, undocumented minors, labour and housing matters, to name but a few;
  • Because the bulk of our matters are individual matters, we see it as our job to identify patterns and trends and to try to intervene. Our intervention could be by lobbying for improvements in legislation, policy and the administration of the law, and includes making submissions on these. In some cases the high volume of cases enables us to identify matters for litigation. The individual matters can end up generating a strategic litigation case;
  • Pro bono work carried out by small practitioners can have a wide reach geographically, moving out of the cities. We have been able to recruit pro bono lawyers in small towns to assist rurally based community paralegals.

Limits of pro bono involvement in strategic litigation:

  • For small firms it is a capacity issue. Strategic litigation can take years to finalise and involves a major commitment by the firm to channel significant resources to support the case. There are exceptions. For instance Egon Oswald, a single practitioner of Egon Oswald Attorneys, acted for a torture victim McCallum and 230 others from the St Albans Prison when serious allegations of torture were made against about 50 warders at the prison. Oswald has devoted years to this matter since it started in 2005, funded the litigation himself at the cost of his own practice and reaped no financial reward. In 2015 he spent 55 days in the Port Elizabeth High Court representing the first two of 231 potential plaintiffs.
  • Bigger firms are more likely to take on the impact cases, but there are challenges, particularly if a conflict of interest arises. This happens particularly when the firm has banks, mining companies and municipalities as clients. The Chinese wall is not
    used in South Africa.
  • For all firms, big and small, there is frequently an unspoken ideological identification by the firms with the powers that be, whether they are the state, big corporates, banks or companies in the lending market. There might be a reluctance to challenge the status quo. An example is the discomfort private firms have in doing bail applications for students and other protestors, because they are viewed as violent and unruly.
  • Another reason that firms do not undertake strategic litigation is that they are frequently not knowledgeable about the strategic litigation process and the steps to take.

Having said that, there are anumber of very interesting examples of impact litigation matters that have been undertaken by private sector legal professionals from big firms on a pro bono basis.

 

Cases:

The Omar Al-Bashir case.

Webber Wentzel represented the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Helen Suzman Foundation in their challenge regarding the South African government’s failure to arrest and detain the president of the Republic of the Sudan, Mr Omar Al-Bashir in June 2015. Al-Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity and genocide. The South African government was obliged to arrest President Al-Bashir when he came onto South African territory in terms of the Rome Statute, which it failed to do. The case was heard in the high court, then the Supreme Court of Appeal. The judgment held that the failure of the government to arrest Al-Bashir was unlawful. The state appealed to the Constitutional Court, then withdrew.

National Key Points matter.

Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr acted in the Right2Know Campaign/ SAHA in the National Key Points case. Right2Know and SAHA had requested information on National Key Points from the state, which was not forthcoming. The court ordered the minister to release the list of National Key Points. This case was a great victory for access to information and accountability to the public.

University of Stellenbosch Legal Aid Clinic and others – Emolument Attachment Orders case.

Webber Wentzel acted in this matter that ended up in the Constitutional Court. The judgment in this case will have a significant impact on the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who have amounts deducted from their salaries every month to pay for debts incurred. As a result of this case, the manner in which Emolument Attachment Orders are administered through our courts will be overhauled to protect debtors.

Arthurstone Village Community case.

Norton Rose Fulbright SA successfully acted on behalf of the 150 indigent and vulnerable residents of Arthurstone, in Mpumalanga, who were unlawfully evicted from their homes on a communal farm by the tribal authority. The court found that the eviction and demolition order was unlawful and set it aside, ordering the tribal authority to construct temporary habitable dwellings and thereafter permanent housing equivalent to the housing they had occupied previously.

The Mgungundlovu Land Claims case.

This case proceeded for 19 years and Norton Rose Fulbright SA worked on it for the last 5, resulting in a remarkable victory for the 100 odd families whose land, which their community had lived on since time immemorial, was taken away. The land, situated along a beach with exceptionally fertile land, was made available to the Transkei Sun, whose lease required it to pay the community R30 000 per annum. The award that Norton Rose managed to secure for the community last year was an annual rental of R4m, escalating at 6% per annum, and a R50m settlement amount from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform. This was an overwhelming victory for the community.

ProBono.Org Cape Town

ProBono.Org Cape Town

By Uzair Adams.

2016 has undoubtedly been a momentous year for ProBono.Org as we celebrated the organisation’s 10th anniversary, which coincided with the launch of a new office in Khayelitsha, Cape Town.

The formal opening of the Isivivana Centre in Khayelitsha took place on 13 October 2016. The centre is managed by the Khayelitsha Youth and Community Centre Trust and was primarily funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies with support from the Harry Crossley Foundation and the Bertha Foundation.

The centre is the first of its kind and operates as a social justice hub which will be home to ProBono.Org and eight other NGOs working with and for underprivileged communities. These NGOs include Equal Education (EE), the Social Justice Coalition (SJC), Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders), the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC), Workers World Media Productions, Health Equity South Africa, the Thope Foundation and the Equal Education Law Centre.

The centre will certainly bring about positive change within Khayelitsha and surrounding communities with these various organisations working towards empowering and improving lives. These NGOs may have different mandates but their common goal is to make access to social justice more easily accessible and realisable for the marginalised.

The legendary Zakes Mda, major literary award winner was one of the guest speakers at the launch. He spoke about the significant symbolism of naming the building Isivivana. The word “Isivivana” means a cairn of stones used to mark a pathway.

“This is a magnificent home for the non-governmental organisations. Isivivana is a glimmer of hope, hope that we all need. This is where all young people will meet and correct our wrongs. My generation has messed up the country. The country is in a mess. It is corrupt to the core. It is in this place that these NGOs will make our government accountable,” he said.

On the day, Cape Town TV, a community television channel interviewed Uzair Adams who manages the ProBono.Org Cape Town office. The Cape Town office is currently in its set-up phase, and is expected to be fully operational by January 2017.

 

Appreciation Day for ProBono.Org Durban attorneys

By Shamika Dwarika.

 

durban-attorneys-appreciation-day

Kevin Duke received the Most Dedicated Attorney certificate

On 23 September 2016 the Durban office hosted an event at the Gateway Hotel in Umhlanga to show our appreciation to attorneys who have gone beyond expectations in meeting their pro bono obligations. While the majority of attorneys on our panel work diligently to fulfill their pro bono hours, there are some who are truly passionate about this work and this comes across in their consistent willingness to assist our clients or the Durban office itself. Apart from the attorneys, we also invited some of our partners and stakeholders with whom
we work.

Guests received certificates in various categories and while we had the serious categories, we also had some fun ones such as Most Entertaining Attorney. Our MC, Mr Jared Dukkhi (a local DJ), who offered his services pro bono, was very entertaining and had the guests chuckling throughout. Guests enjoyed the raffles and this generated much excitement, especially when the Lexis Nexis PG licenses were raffled! Our sponsors included Lexis Nexis, Discovery Health, Virgin Active Health Club, Labour Net, SAB/ ABI as well as Remy Martin. We received very positive feedback from guests and have already had queries about when the next one will be held!

Orange Farm Community Workshop

Orange Farm Community Workshop

By Thato Mashishi, Fasken Martineau.

 

On 20 October 2016, ProBono.Org in partnership with Fasken Martineau hosted a community workshop in Orange Farm. Presentations were made by professionals from Fasken Martineau: Gia Abrahamson, Nasipi Mantshule and Thato Mashishi.

The presentations covered Children’s Rights, Domestic Violence and Maintenance and were conducted in English, Setswana and Xhosa.

The focus of the workshop was to create awareness in the community and to provide information on the available pro bono legal services.

The presenters explained the rights and responsibilities of parents and children, what gender-based violence is and how to apply for maintenance. The workshop was a great success and the community felt empowered, especially since the workshop was conducted in their vernacular languages.

16 Days of Activism For no violence against Women

16 Days of Activism For no violence against Women

Our first event for the 16 Days of Activism For no violence against Women and Children took place at the Orange Farm Community Office.

The event was well attended even by males who have shown their support of this campaign. Swazi an attorney from ProBono. Org and Bricks a Paralegal , were given a slot at the local radio station where they spoke about the event that was held on 29 November 2016.