By Tshenolo Masha
The appalling and unnecessary loss of life resulting from the Life Esidimeni tragedy has cast a spotlight on the many inefficiencies within our health system. It was however the lack of governance and legal advice in the NGOs involved that highlights the need for pro bono assistance for NGOs. Many of the organisations to which the Life Esidimeni patients were transferred were not properly registered to provide the services that they were contracted to provide and many opted to proceed in the hope that the funding received would be able to cover the loose ends. This was sadly not the case, and so began a downhill tumble of inexperience coupled with inadequate resources and support that disastrously led to the loss of many lives.
As with all tragedies, there are lessons that need to be learnt and actions put in place to ensure that they are not repeated. It is important that pro bono assistance for NGOs is provided to assist them with proper governance and contractual advice to avoid being drawn into dangerous spaces, in the hope of getting funding.
All law societies in South Africa recognise the role and contribution of NGOs in providing much needed assistance to impoverished members of society, many with limited resources and funding and a big commitment to social change. That is why pro bono legal work is extended to NGOs. ProBono.Org renders
services through volunteer attorneys to non-governmental, non-profit, community-based, public benefit, corporate or unincorporated bodies, trusts, foundations or charities working in the public interest or working to secure or protect human rights, which are mainly funded by donations.
Many NPOs are in desperate need of health checks to determine the organisation’s legal standing, status and ability to enter into certain contracts. We believe that, had some of the NGOs that received Life Esidimeni patients had access to skilled pro bono attorneys, they would have received the appropriate advice on their ability and legal standing to deliver the contracted services and would have been better positioned to respond to their situations appropriately.
Pro bono services include advice, opinions and the appointment of an attorney and/or advocate where payment of legal fees would deplete the organisation’s economic resources and adversely affect their ability to carry out their charitable or public interest work.
We are therefore calling on all legal professionals to contribute their knowledge and expertise in a practical and impactful manner. Each one of us has a duty to ensure that the law and access to the law is utilised for the greater good of our society and to protect the most vulnerable. Pro bono publico.
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