Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. DAILY DISPATCH/ LULAMILE FENI
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. DAILY DISPATCH/ LULAMILE FENI

Some of SA’s leading advocates have announced their intention to take on white male supremacy in the legal community, by forming a bar association with a majority of black and female members.

“We are unapologetically black and women orientated,” advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, one of the founding members of the Pan African Bar Association of SA (Pabasa) said at the voluntary association’s launch on Tuesday.

“We are creating an atmosphere where being black and being a woman are the norm. We are creating an atmosphere where black people and women do not need to explain themselves; do not need to seek white male validation to be recognised.”

Pabasa, which already has 70 prospective members, aims to ensure that black and female advocates are briefed to argue cases involving commercial, tax and construction law — areas that advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi argues have been dominated by white males.

This, he said, was because white partners in law firms were more inclined to brief white male junior advocates to argue these cases.

“This nonsense where they keep saying ‘we don’t know who to brief because we don’t know you guys’ must really come to an end because you know its name — it’s racism. Pabasa wants to stop racism at its root and we want to stop the sweet-talking nonsense. So if I mess up a case, I shouldn’t get the work. But if I win a case, I shouldn’t be excluded just because I’m black.

“We have to start by breaking down these patterns of privilege that reinforce whiteness.”

He said he experienced racism while practicing as an advocate: “When you appear before a judge, it should be expected that if you are white, you could be talking rubbish, and if you are black you could be talking sense. But it is the other way around currently. That is our own experience.”

His words were echoed by senior advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, who said that in his 30 years as a legal professional, “ [I] never felt that I was equal, that I was treated as an equal; never felt that I was free and I certainly never felt that I was treated with dignity”.

Ngcukaitobi said Pabasa aimed to equip advocates excluded from commercial work, by creating a “school” — funded by law firms and with judges, among other experts, providing training — that could address gaps in knowledge and experience.

Gauteng judge president Dunstan Mlambo, responsible for the rulings that enabled the commission of inquiry into state capture to go ahead, and found the appointment of former prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams to be invalid, said the judiciary he led supported Pabasa’s goals.

“The judiciary I lead congratulates you on this project, and it is a judiciary that has assured me that it looks forward to co-operating with you fully, in terms of the agenda you’ve set for yourself.”

Mlambo encouraged Pabasa to pursue litigation strategies “that go to the heart of why our constitutional project has not delivered”.

“I lead a judiciary that is hungry to ensure that the constitution becomes reality,” he said.

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