Être avocate, et noire

(Photo  Lunga Siyo, de l’organisation Legal Resource Centre, et Mandisa Shandu, de l’organisation et clinique juridique Ndifuna Ukwazi)

Je suis une jeune femme africaine, noire, et je travaille dans le secteur de l’intérêt public. Voici ce que cela signifie:

Ça veut dire que certain-e-s d’entre nous sommes des diplômé-e-s de première génération. Nous travaillons donc avec une pression supplémentaire : celle de gagner notre vie pour subvenir aux besoins financiers de nos familles respectives.

Ça veut dire que nous ne gagnons parfois pas assez pour subvenir à nos propres besoins, ni à ceux de nos familles. Résultat ? Une part si importante d’avocat-e-s africain-e-s noir-e-s finissent par abandonner le secteur de l’intérêt public pour reprendre un travail qui ne les passionne pas, mais qui garantira une rentrée d’argent suffisante par mois pour leur permettre de tenir leurs obligations.

Ça veut dire que nous travaillons dans un secteur qui n’a pas suffisamment progressé : les organisations comptent des avocat-e-s africain-e-s noir-e-s mais ils et elles n’occupent pas des postes à haute responsabilité.

Ça veut dire qu’il est grand temps d’avoir des politiques, d’instruction notamment, pour engager la responsabilité des organisations sur leurs pratiques d’attribution des affaires, en particulier si elles n’en confient pas aux avocat-e-s noir-e-s.

Ça veut dire qu’il faut encourager la création d’entités telles que le groupe Black Workers Forum (groupe militant de soutien aux travailleur-euse-s noir-e-s) pour contrôler les organisations dans la conduite du changement.

Ça veut dire qu’il existe cette idée que les jeunes avocat-e-s noir-e-s ne sont pas capables de gérer des affaires compliquées, ou des affaires relevant de domaines juridiques spécialisés.

Ça veut dire que d’autres avocat-e-s africain-e-s noir-e-s risquent de perdre leur travail en confiant des affaires à des avocat-e-s noir-e-s qui « n’ont pas d’expérience et ne savent pas s’engager sur des affaires à titre bénévole. »

Et sur le fait d’être non seulement africaine et noire, mais aussi une femme, ça veut dire que nos confrères masculins ont plus de crédibilité que nous et qu’il y a des client-e-s qui préfèrent que leur affaire soit entre les mains d’un avocat masculin.

Mais n’oublions pas la beauté que cela représente d’être des avocat-e-s africain-e-s et noir-e-s

Étant des défenseur-euse-s de l’intérêt public, la majorité de nos client-e-s sont des Africain-e-s noir-e-s, ce qui veut dire que la majeure partie du travail que nous menons est en faveur de notre propre peuple et pour l’amélioration du bien-être de celui-ci.

Nous parlons plusieurs langues et sommes ainsi capables de communiquer avec nos client-e-s dans leur propre langue. Nous comprenons leurs cultures et traditions.

Nous sommes un point de référence pour ces client-e-s. Je ne compte plus les fois où, lorsque je plaide au tribunal en tant qu’élève-avocate, les membres du public m’abordent pour me demander où se trouve telle ou telle salle du tribunal, ou comment compléter un formulaire de plainte pour violences conjugales. Notre peau noire signifie que nous comprenons mieux.

Nous, enfants africain-e-s, grandissons avec le principe que tout aîné est comme une mère, un père, ou un grand-parent. Au quotidien, pendant chaque atelier ou consultation communautaire auquel je participe, je me consacre au bien-être des plus âgé-e-s, assurant notamment qu’ils et elles peuvent se déplacer facilement. Mon travail en tant qu’avocate noire s’accompagne donc d’une dimension personnelle.

Ainsi, être avocate et noire implique en effet de nombreux obstacles. Mais malgré tout, nous accomplissons notre travail et nous comprenons et établissons une connexion avec nos client-e-s.

Sindisiwe Mfeka – Boursière Bertha Justice 2017

La Rencontre Bertha est assurée chaque année par la fondation « Bertha Foundation ». Nous tenons à remercier les équipes de la Fondation pour leur soutien à la nouvelle génération d’avocat-e-s défenseur-euse-s des droits humains. Plus d’informations (en anglais) sur la fondation « Bertha Foundation » ici : http://berthafoundation.org/  

 

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Reflections on Fellowship and Contesting the Constitution

Photo: Tshepo Madlingozi 

The fast pace of legal practice and constant demand on your faculties and capacity in the public interest sector is often a distraction from gaining perspective about our growth as young social justice lawyers. The Bertha convenings serve as important periods for pausing and stretching our minds.

The first year of the fellowship is a wonderful time of terror and optimism. A time of learning the ropes and mastering the tone of the profession. During your second year you are given the opportunity to take on more responsibility in a practice, and this added freedom is an essential part of understanding your own abilities, potential ethics and limitations. As the conclusion of the fellowship approaches and we make the transition to alumni, many of us grapple with the reality of legal practice, the lure of social justice by academia and reinventing our role in the social justice arena.

As young social justice lawyers we are in a unique position to begin to experiment with hybrid careers and opportunities. There is an overwhelming sense that a new path must be forged and exciting long-lost entrepreneurial inklings must be called upon going forward to continue to effect change. The South African Bertha convenings serve as an important pool of ideas from which the fellows can draw from in order to advance new ideas about social justice and our roles within this sector.

We were particularly challenged at this year’s convening titled, “Contesting Power, Privilege and the Constitution” as it was an opportunity to hear the voices we tend to usurp or minimise in the course of litigation. The convening also galvanised fellows and alumni to question the paradigms in which we operate as public interest lawyers in the pursuit of social justice.

We work in a context where South Africa’s dehumanising history still presents itself in our thinking around development and notions of social justice. When Tshepo Madlingozi, a jurisprudence lecturer at the University of Pretoria, asked us about our use of emancipatory tools, many of us came to realise that we had accepted many imposed norms as unassailable purely because we were in the business of doing good.

Madlingozi’s argument was that human rights and, necessarily, social justice are concepts rooted in ‘coloniality of being’. That is, “South Africa’s contemporary social justice sector’s ahistorical and colour-blind fetishisation of human rights, as part and parcel of the economy of recognition – incorporation – distribution, both conceals and entrenches this teleological whiteness.”[1]

This begs the question for us public interest lawyers, operating under the banner of social justice, of whether we are truly effecting change in a post-apartheid South Africa, or whether we unwittingly perpetuate the notion of dehumanising “othering”. In essence, what the convening required of us was to recognise the real struggle of those we purport to represent. It asked us to understand what it was to be poor, black, female identifying, LGBTIQ+, migrant, marginalised, landless, silenced and forgotten.

In as much as Madlingozi encouraged a shift toward the recognition and appropriation of a liberation project, our claim on the advancement of human rights is still framed by a colonial understanding of humanity and law. Thus, if we remain impervious to the paucity of human rights “speak”, we may lose legitimacy in the eyes of those who continue to suffer “dehumanisation and social death”[2]

What about the Constitution? As mentioned above, the theme of the convening envisioned contesting the Constitution. One of the issues that we grapple with in the South African context debate, is our unquestioning defence of the Constitution. On the ground, the lofty ideals in the Constitution scarcely equates to the rectification of injustice. The protection of ill-gotten gains (property) daily reminds the dispossessed, our clients, of their social deaths and social injustice.

What’s more is that civil society in South Africa, of which we are part of and partner with, has been venerated beyond reproach – thus the “liberation project”, as Madlingozi puts it, cannot take form in the face of ahistorical disarming discourse that it deems social justice. As we graduate from the fellowship we will continue to debate and challenge social justice which constitutes temporary relief for those with insecure title and “developing the normative an remedial apparatus for imposing duties on organs of State.”[3] We will also continue to question whether we, as public interest lawyers, can attain the humanising project within the framework of our Constitution.

Mpho Raboeane and Christine Grobler – ­2017 Bertha Justice Fellows

The Annual Bertha Convening is supported by the Bertha Foundation. We would like to thank them for their support of the next generation of young human rights lawyers. Read more about the Bertha Foundation and Bertha Justice Fellows here: http://berthafoundation.org/

[1] T Madlingozi “Social Justice and Neo-Apartheid Constitutionalism”(2017) 28 Stell LR 137.

[2] Ibid at 139.

[3] S Liebenberg “Socio-economic rights beyond the public private law divide” in M Langford, J Dugard, B Cousins and T Madlingozi (eds) Socio-economic Rights in South Africa: Symbols or Substance?(2014) 63 64 as in T Madlingnozi “Social Justice and Neo-Apartheid Constitutionalism” 145.

The Nameless Ones: Educating Undocumented Learners

Thousands of learners across South Africa are being excluded from schools as a result of their failure to provide their schools with identity numbers, passports or permits. This follows the announcement by various provincial departments of education that funding transfers to schools for the Norms and Standards, post provisioning allocation and National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) would be based only on learner numbers where valid South African identity, passport and permit numbers have been captured on the South African Schools Administration & Management System (SASAMS). This means that undocumented South African learners, as well as foreign learners, will no longer receive any education funding from government.

Schools that are most affected by this decision are the no-fee schools that are entirely dependent on state funding. These are the poorest schools and comprise around 60% of all schools in the country. The funding transfers are used by the schools to provide essential resources such as textbooks, stationery, as well as daily meals. Funding is also provided to pay for essential maintenance and municipal services. The decision also impacts on the provision of teachers to schools, as teacher posts are only allocated to those learners with valid identity numbers, passports and permits (as opposed to the number of children actually present in classrooms).

In the past, schools were funded based on actual numbers of learners, regardless of whether they had valid identity documents, passports and permit numbers. The SASAMS was introduced in 2013 and is a database that (theoretically) contains all the personal and academic information of learners attending public schools in South Africa. The SASAMS was introduced by the Department of Basic Education in an attempt to improve the accuracy of its resource distribution and prevent the problem of “ghost learners”. This is the phenomenon where schools request funding for more learners than are present in the school and then embezzle the additional funding. By only providing funding for learners with valid identity numbers, passport, or permit numbers the Department of Basic Education is better able to combat this fraudulent conduct. The decision has had unconstitutional consequences.

The decision to exclude undocumented learners from funding was announced in March 2016 to all schools in the Eastern Cape. Similarly, schools in KwaZulu-Natal were informed of the decision on 24 March 2017. On Friday, 26 May 2017, the Legal Resources Centre, on behalf of the Centre for Child Law and the School Governing Body of Phakamisa High School in the Eastern Cape, launched an application in the Grahamstown High Court to declare the decision of the Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDOE) unconstitutional.

The application argues that, by withdrawing funding from undocumented learners, the ECDOE is violating the learners’ constitutional right to basic education, particularly when it is read in conjunction with the learners’ rights to dignity (and the right to equality and non-discrimination).

The funding failure is also a gross violation of the learners’ constitutional rights to basic nutrition (section 28) and to have access to sufficient food (section 27). Furthermore, the decision to exclude learners without identity number, passports or permits is not in the best interests of the child and violates section 28(2) of the Constitution.

Many schools have been negatively affected by this decision. Phakamisa High School, the second applicant in the case, has 99 learners that were excluded from funding for the 2017/2018 financial year. The school has been forced to use funding from their maintenance budget to supplement the shortfall in their NSNP budget, while simultaneously reducing the food portions for all the learners in the school. Many other schools have simply decided to exclude undocumented learners or refuse them admission to the school.

It is usually the poorest and most vulnerable learners that fail to obtain their identity documents. This is a problem that disproportionately affects poor black learners living in rural areas of the country where access to resources are scarce and children are raised by grandparents or other extended family members. Often parents or guardians fail to take the necessary steps to register the birth of a child due to a lack of access to an office of the Department of Home Affairs, the parents not being in possession of the necessary documents to have the birth registered, or as a direct result of migrant labour.

The application seeks to have the decision by the ECDOE set aside and for the Department to revise teacher post establishments and funding in line with actual numbers of learners in schools, regardless of their registration status. The LRC hopes to set a precedent that can be extended to other provinces where similar measures have been announced.

Cecile van Schalkwyk – 2017 Bertha Justice Fellow

The Annual Bertha Convening is supported by the Bertha Foundation. We would like to thank them for their support of the next generation of young human rights lawyers. Read more about the Bertha Foundation and Bertha Fellows here: http://berthafoundation.org/

Lawyering whilst Black

(featured photo of Lunga Siyo, LRC, and Mandisa Shandu, Ndifuna Ukwazi)

I am black-African, young and female, and working in the public interest sector. This is what it means to me:

It means that some of us are first generation graduates; we work with the added pressure of making money in order to financially support our families.

It means that sometimes we do not earn enough to sustain ourselves and our families and so many young, black-African lawyers end up leaving the public interest sector for jobs that they do not necessarily love, but that will make sure that they fulfil their obligations each month.

It means that we work in a sector that is not transformed enough: we see black-African lawyers within our organisations but they are not occupying senior positions.

It means that there has to be policies put in place, such as briefing policies, in order to hold organisations “accountable” for who they brief, or their failure to brief black counsel.

It means forming institutions such as the Black Workers Forum to “police” organisations when it comes to transformation….. 33 years after Democracy.

It means that there is a belief that young black lawyers are incapable of competently handling complicated matters or matters seen as falling within specialised areas of law.

It means that other black-African lawyers are afraid of putting their jobs on the line by briefing other black-African counsel because black-African counsel are “inexperienced and can’t take on matters probono”.

And on the burden of being both black-African and female: it means that your male counterparts are taken more seriously than you and that some clients will be more comfortable with their matters being handled by your male colleague.

But let us not forget the beauty of being a black-African lawyer:

As public interest organisations, the majority of our clients are black-Africans. This means that the majority of the work that we do is for our own people and for the betterment of our own people.

We are multi-lingual; we are able to communicate with our clients in a language that is their own. We understand the cultures and traditions of our clients.

We are a point of reference for clients. I have lost count of how many times I have been at court – going about my duties as a Candidate Attorney – and have been approached by members of the public, querying how to find a particular section of the court or how to fill in a domestic violence form. Our black skin means that we will understand better.

As a black-African child, we are taught that every elder is your mother/father or grandparent. For me this has meant that at every workshop or community consultations, I run to the aid of elderly people, making sure that they can get around with ease. My work as a black lawyer comes with a personal touch.

Lawyering whilst black…means that we have challenges; but we do our work anyway and we can understand the plight of our clients in a way that connects us to them.

Sindisiwe Mfeka – 2017 Bertha Justice Fellow

The Annual Bertha Convening is supported by the Bertha Foundation. We would like to thank them for their support of the next generation of young human rights lawyers. Read more about the Bertha Foundation and Bertha Fellows here: http://berthafoundation.org/