Dialogue on Mandela the Lawyer

Dialogue on Mandela the Lawyer

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.

Click here for our complete December 2018 Newsletter

The Open Society Foundation in SA turns 25

The Open Society Foundation in SA turns 25

On 29 and 30 November ProBono. Org attended the 25th anniversary of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA), which opened offices in 1993. However, founder George Soros had already been engaged in South Africa since 1979 when he launched a scholarship programme for black students to study at the University of Cape Town. The programme for the celebration included tours to some of the Cape Town projects funded by OSF-SA, a film preview, panel discussions at the OSF offices, a photo exhibition of grantees’ social justice projects and a commemorative public lecture at the City Hall with Samia Nkrumah in conversation with Patrick Gaspard, President of the OSF. A highlight of this last evening was the announcement of the next 25 recipients of fellowships and scholarships, one of the presenters being the first recipient of a bursary in 1979.

Congratulations OSF-SA!

Click here for our complete December 2018 Newsletter

Attorney get-together and feedback session

Attorney get-together and feedback session

On 6 December a good crowd of attorneys, advocates and mediators gathered at our offices to socialise and give us feedback on their experiences staffing our legal clinics and help desks and taking on our clients’ cases. We are grateful for this feedback and also for the good work of all our partners in 2018. We are proud to report that with your help we have assisted over 10,000 needy people this year. We wish every one of you a restful and happy festive season.

Click here for our complete December 2018 Newsletter

Events and work with SMME’s

Events and work with SMME’s

By Swazi Malinga.

ProBono.Org generally provides legal assistance on corporate governance to young aspiring entrepreneurs, business start-ups and SMMEs by referring their requests for assistance to law firms who have volunteered their services on a pro bono basis. We assist clients with an annual turnover of less than R1million.

Because many of these business owners lack the basic knowledge of what the law requires of them when operating their businesses, we tend to spend a lot of time explaining and providing a crash course in commercial law.

In response to this we hosted an SMME seminar on 7 September at Constitution Hill together with Stevens Attorneys, which addressed The Companies Act, Insolvency Law and Commercial Contracts. The 56 participants ranged from owners of start-ups, established entities and spaza shops.

Since 2015 ProBono.Org has run an SMME help desk called YAKHA ISIZWE, based in Soweto, which is a collaboration with Fasken Attorneys and the University of Johannesburg Centre for Entrepreneurship. The objective of this help desk is to provide the services of attorneys to a wide range of businesses, including spaza and tuckshop owners, business women, hawkers, bed and breakfast establishments and hair and beauty salons. The attorneys assist with drawing up service level agreements, lease and finance agreements, as well as advising on appropriate forms of entities to register and providing education and training on commercial law.

To create more awareness about the help desk we hosted an Entrepreneurship Fair on 27 September 2018 together with Fasken and the University of Johannesburg. A young female entrepreneur who owns an online pre-owned clothing business was the guest speaker. A panel consisting of a labour attorney from Fasken, the SA Revenue Service, E-Squared and the CIPC provided information and advice to the participants.

Our goal for 2019 is to have a weekly clinic for SMMEs that will operate at our head office.

 

Click here for our complete October 2018 Newsletter

Impact Africa 18 Summit

By Molebogeng Manyako, Johannesburg intern.

Further focus on SMMEs and advancing young entrepreneurs saw ProBono.Org and the British Council collaborate on a session presented by ProBono.Org and Bowmans at the Impact Africa Summit from 20 to 22 June. The purpose of the event was to accelerate innovative solutions to Africa’s most pressing challenges by inspiring, supporting and connecting leading social entrepreneurs and key ecosystem players across countries, organisations and sectors such as policy, social investment, business and education.

The first day dealt with leadership for change addressed by the likes of Pat Pillai and Jay Naidoo, to mention a few. The second day was about building a strong ecosystem and the third day addressed collaboration, which does not necessarily involve having money. One’s hands, mind and time can all be used to collaborate.

The Impact Africa summit has shown that we all have a role to play in shaping our societies to be more conducive for the holistic development of women. Last but not least, who can forget Sylvia Banda, a Zambian entrepreneur and a great storyteller. She said that “ I didn’t need to tell anyone about my first business. I just fried the food and filled the room with a nice aroma. People came to my door asking if I’ve started a restaurant”.

 

Click here for our complete October 2018 Newsletter

Public Interest Law Gathering (PILG) 4-5 Sept 2018

Public Interest Law Gathering (PILG) 4-5 Sept 2018

By Tshenolo Masha.

At this year’s event, convened by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) ProBono.Org organised a plenary session on Transformation, both in the public interest law sector and the profession as a whole.

The panellists were Lisa Chamberlain (CALS), advocate Amelia Rawhani (Johannesburg Bar), Silomo Khumalo (Black Workers Forum), Mari van Wyk (Lexis Nexis) and Khululilwe Ntombi Bhengu (former ProBono.Org intern currently serving articles at SERI).The panel was facilitated by Tshenolo Masha of ProBono.Org.

The ojectives of the session were to look back on what has been achieved and some of the challenges within the public interest law sector and also to get an understanding of how the question of transformation is addressed by the legal profession as a whole.

The panellists covered aspects such as:

  • How transformation affects the sustainability and funding of organisations
  • A demographic overview of the profession in terms of race and gender (outlined in the Lexis Nexis 2016 survey)
  • How the lack of real transformation hinders young black female lawyers.

The session made it clear that a huge amount of work needs to be done to gain real transformation. We will be engaging young professionals to plan how active, progressive results can be achieved.

 

Click here for our complete October 2018 Newsletter

Expropriation of land without compensation – Dialogue with the legal profession

Expropriation of land without compensation – Dialogue with the legal profession

By Tshenolo Masha.

In collaboration with Bowmans and Wits University, we held a dialogue on this hot topic on 23 August. The panel consisted of Prof. Elmien du Plessis (North West University), Nomzamo Zondo (SERI), Pierre Venter (Banking Association of SA), Stephen Grootes (SAFM) and Tebele Makhetha (Business Leadership SA). The dialogue was facilitated by Nompumelelo Seme from Wits.

The dialogue was specifically aimed at the legal profession and looked into various legal aspects of expropriation, for example, the regulation of land use and how it could be translated to the majority of the population who currently do not benefit from land in its current legal framework. It also discussed the interpretation of Section 25 of the Constitution in its reference to fair compensation.

There was lively debate and interaction from the large audience. The success of this event will be followed by a similar dialogue in Cape Town on 18 October.

 

Click here for our complete October 2018 Newsletter

ProBono.Org Durban’s Fundraising Brunch

ProBono.Org Durban’s Fundraising Brunch

By Shamika Dwarika

 

3 August 2018 was a culmination of months of hard work and planning for the Durban office as we held our Fundraising Brunch at the DLI Hall in Greyville. The event served a dual purpose in that we sought to raise awareness about violence and abuse against women and children, while at the same time raising funds for our office. To our delight the day dawned clear, unlike last year’s torrential downpour, and attendees were able to show up in their finery.

As there was a chill in the air however, BarMotion were on the scene to provide free hot beverages to warm the soul. 1608 Beauty on Demand were also on hand to provide free massages to get attendees in the mood for the event. We were very thankful that sponsors saw the value in what we were trying to do and came on board to support us in various ways. Our financial sponsors were Sanlam, PSI and Lexis Nexis SA (being our key sponsor). We also received goodie bag items from TAFTA, Vovo Telo Umhlanga, Varsity College and others. And with so many raffle items up for grabs, everyone had an opportunity to win! In total, we had 49 sponsorships, every one of which was instrumental in making the event a success.

In addition, we had exciting entertainment by Bluff Dance, Sizamawala Dance Group and Iris Samianathan whose performances took us through the various stages of a woman’s life. Our keynote speaker told her tale of emotional and verbal abuse. While many tend to focus on physical or sexual abuse, other types of abuse can be just as damaging and poisonous. Attendees had an enjoyable outing but were also provided with food for thought. In summary, it was a day well spent for all.

 

Click here for our complete October 2018 Newsletter

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

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

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