Justice 2020

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Sally Gandar, 36

Head of advocacy and legal advisor
Scalabrini Centre

“I studied law, and was always interested in human rights and social justice, but I’ve moved away from practicing law and more into the advocacy space. That’s been both surprising and refreshing for me — knowing that there are so many ways to use the law for good.”

Sally Gandar is Head of advocacy and a legal advisor at the Scalabrini Centre — an organisation that fosters the cultural, social and economic integration of migrants, refugees and South Africans into local society. The centre is committed to alleviating poverty and promoting development in the Western Cape by providing assistance, and advocating respect for human rights, using a holistic approach that considers all basic needs.

She’s particularly driven by human connection and the creativity involved in advocacy work — how it can intersect with so many different parts of everyday life, from covering basic needs, to education programmes, fostering leadership skills, therapy programmes and so much more.

Being one of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans is particularly meaningful to her, as it’s a way for Gandar to amplify the voices of others who don’t have a platform of their own.

In the meantime, she’ll continue fighting for the better implementation of human rights — for a kinder South Africa, a more inclusive one, and one that respects the country’s diversity from all perspectives, whether in terms of queer individuals, refugees, migrants or asylum seekers.

Author - Rosie Goddard
Tebello Motshwane, 30

Tebello Motshwane, 30

“Ten years ago I had my son. I was 19 years old and I thought I would never end up graduating and being successful. I wish I could have said to myself: believe in yourself and your abilities, everything is going to come together, and this boy will be the best thing to have ever happened to you and your relationship with your mother. Work hard and smart and you will get that degree and become an attorney.”

Today, Tebello Motshwane has overcome various hurdles, including financial set-backs at the beginning of her career, to become the founder and managing director of Sister in Law — a platform dedicated to empowering women through legal education.

“I want women to be more empowered when it comes to legal issues that affect them and their family lives. It is important that women know how marriage contracts affect them, what the consequences of divorce are, how to apply for a protection order, how to apply for child maintenance and the importance of having a will in place. The more I can empower younger women, the fewer families will be torn apart by legal issues.”

In recent years, her tireless work has paid off: she’s been able to expand the Sister in Law operation to Botswana and Lesotho, and has also been selected as a fellow for the business leadership programme of the Nelson Mandela Washington Fellowship. “This opportunity is going to allow me to expand my business: it will teach me how to apply for funding, how to draw proposals, financial management, marketing skills, how to identify projects to collaborate on and how to increase human resource capacity in my company.”

Thami Malusi, 28

Thami Malusi, 28

Malusi’s career path has taken him from studying in Cape Town to California, with a stop in Johannesburg in between to practice public interest law. He has worked on several high-profile class action lawsuits including getting compensation for South African gold miners who contracted silicosis, and more recently in seeking compensation for victims of the listeriosis outbreak in 2017 and 2018. It’s the latter that has taken him to food safety law firm Marler Clark in Seattle, where he is on secondment as an associate attorney until the end of the year.

Malusi lists an array of challenges that drive him such as bridging racial economic disparities, securing land tenure for informal land right holders, ridding government of corruption and ensuring constitutionalism. He believes that creative and dedicated lawyers are critical in the reformation of South Africa’s future.

“As much as we can decry our regression as a nation in the past 10 to 12 years, we still have strong institutions, which are constitutionally sanctioned, that we can use to bring about the necessary changes for marginalised South Africans.”

And while South Africa’s Constitution and institutions remain strong, these need to be fought for and protected. Malusi believes his personal journey and upbringing, “which for a long time society had taught me was a hindrance to professional success and needed to be suppressed”, strengthened him by giving him a unique perspective.

His determination, coupled with his work experience already earned at a young age, is setting Malusi up for success.

Thabang Pooe, 31

Thabang Pooe, 31

Thabang Pooe has made it her mission to embrace her talents so that she can inspire other women to do the same. But it hasn’t always been easy.

Today, she speaks with such self-confidence that it’s hard to believe this is the same woman who felt she had to apply to the Constitutional Court during her post-varsity fellowship at Section27 in secret. Some people had said she was only there because of her Black Economic Empowerment credentials, so for fear of rejection, she went it alone. Turns out she proved everyone, including herself, wrong. She was appointed by Justice Zak Yacoob as the clerk for Justice Mbuyiseli Madlanga. Her next step was to graduate from the University of California, Los Angeles, with an LLM.

Growing up in Kgabalatsane, North West, professional female role models were thin on the ground. For young girls it seemed there were no opportunities and got into relationships with older men in the belief they would have a better life. Many fell pregnant before completing matric. Lawyers or business people were men, while girls, out of necessity would seek out a man to rely on, sometimes falling pregnant before matric. Pooe’s parents were teachers and worked hard to send her to a good school. She learned early that she could harness her education to change her circumstances. Because of this foundation, she’s dedicated her post-university career to the fight for equal education for all.

“South Africa has high rates of youth unemployment and high drop-out rates. An educated youth will result in more young people accessing institutions of higher education, entrepreneurship, and a more active citizenry. That is the impact I want to see in my work.”

Sinal Govender, 31

Sinal Govender, 31

“It’s quite unexpected that now, during a time of immense uncertainty and anxiety, I am on what I consider to be the best path for me to do the work I want, which I also feel is incredibly necessary right now. I couldn’t have predicted that three years after I ventured out on my own that the world would be forced to embrace the kind of working environment I had been advocating for years,” says Sinal Govender, founder and director of pop.law.

Govender met her business partner through Instagram and they launched their legal consultancy for freelancers, startups and SMEs on the first day of South Africa’s national lockdown. “Starting and growing a business during a global pandemic might seem ridiculous to others, but to see it thrive and help thousands of South African during an otherwise anxious time has been an unquantifiably proud moment for me,” she says.

Shortly after being promoted to a senior associate at age 28, Govender resigned from her previous job without much of a plan, but knew she needed to start her own legal consultancy in order to have more control over the work that she does. She also wanted to be able to provide her service to people who need it the most. She’s had no job security, but she says she’s found enjoyment in her work.

“I think that, for too long, knowledge of the law has been used to oppress the majority of South Africans, and I am committed to making the law accessible to everyone and using it as a tool to drive socioeconomic change,” said Govender.

Instead of confining herself to an idealistic reality of what a lawyer should be, she has been able to expand her impact beyond the law, into the educational and mentorship spaces, working with like-minded people who are just as committed to making a change in this country.

Claire Keet Pollock, 34

Claire Keet Pollock, 34

Venture designer and co-founder Claire Keet Pollock and her business partner want to make law accessible to everyone through their legal consultancy, pop.law. “We both feel strongly that access to justice is not something that should be reserved for just privileged, educated or wealthy South Africans,” says Pollock. They’re building a brand and bouquet of legal services that break down some of the barriers that make legal help unattainable to many South Africans, including cost and perception.

Pollock describes her career journey as a series of surprises: “I had no idea I’d explore and run ventures across such a colourful range of industries. The common thread that weaves it all together is the use of design as a powerful tool to solve problems for people,” she marvels. She counts starting a legal consultancy earlier this year as one of those unexpected twists. And that’s what she enjoys about it:

“It turns out that law and design intersect perfectly. We believe that divergent, out-the-box legal products and services come from combining inside knowledge with an outside perspective. We’re using that synergy to fulfil our mission.”

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint-hearted; it’s a rollercoaster ride from failures to triumphs, fuelled by a lot of motivation and a healthy dose of tenacity. Pollock says the love for what she does keeps her going: “Even when things are going terribly, my love for venture design and the work we’re doing at pop.law launches me out of bed every single morning to find a way to do better. When you love what you do, then it doesn’t matter how grim things get or how many times you’ve got to pick yourself up and try again.”

Thando Gumede, 27

Thando Gumede, 27

Thando Gumede is a master’s student at the University of Cape Town. She completed her LLB at the University of Witwatersrand and specialises in human rights law and social justice, with a focus on menstrual health and women, children, gender non-conforming and others rights to basic and higher education.

Gumede has dedicated the past three years to creating M-Teto, an app that addresses problems related to gender-based violence at schools. The M-Teto search engine is an educational tool that children can use to learn about all matters related to gender-based violence. It identifies high-risk children, schools and regions, informs children of their rights, has an in-app calling system, a directory and age-appropriate police reviews.

Even though M-Teto is still at its start-up phase, Gumede has received global and local recognition for her innovation, including awards from the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, the United Kingdom’s Royal Academy of Engineering and the South African Technology Innovation Agency. Doing as much as she does can take its toll on one’s well-being and Gumede is no longer taking chances with her health. Taking it one step at a time also allows her to reflect on her journey, and knows that second chances and fresh starts exist. “It’s okay to fail and start all over again. I would tell [my younger self] not to waste time on feelings of resentment and encourage her to forget about missed opportunities and rather focus on the ones laying at your feet.”

Keketso Gift Kgomosotho, 28

Keketso Gift Kgomosotho, 28

Not many people can say that they have addressed a United Nations conference on the prevention of human rights abuses, spoken on queer- and gender-based violence at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights or coached a national moot court team representing South Africa, and won. Lawyer Keketso Gift Kgomosotho can lay claim to these achievements and more — although some of his biggest lessons have come from his failures, rather than successes.

“I had been working for a number of years to get into a specific programme, and I was rejected. It dealt a devastating blow to my plans, many of which were dependent on this. I can look back on it now with some distance and perspective, and realise that failure, loss and travail are ordinary parts of the imperfect human existence. You can be good, and still fail. I’ve started seeing mine and others’ failure as less of a tragedy, and more like building a muscle, for future battle.”

As an international law scholar and through his work with moot court projects, he wants to hear more African voices in the drive to eradicate conditions of underdevelopment. He hopes to propose solutions to problems facing South Africa, thereby deepening an appreciation of the Constitution’s values and creating a more tolerant, and responsible citizenry.

With so much on his mind and so much work to be done, does he ever have time to focus on himself? “I’ve only recently started to appreciate the importance of maintaining a work-life balance, and being intentional with taking care of yourself. If I could, I’d reassure my younger self that all the hard work, and sacrifices will be worth it.”

Stanley Malematja, 28

Stanley Malematja, 28

As an attorney at the Right2Protest Project, Stanley Malematja is committed to using the law to make a change in the lives of the most marginalised people in South African society. His goal is clear: “The respect, protection, promotion and realisation of human rights. Poor service delivery must be an issue of the past.”

Malematja’s achievements have been accomplished through hard work and no shortage of talent. This was entirely evident during his studies, when he was named as the overall winner at the 6th Annual Child Law Moot Court Competition in 2015, and when he received the prestigious Danie en Chrissie Dörfling Floating Trophy from the University of Johannesburg for the next year’s edition.

Now, as a sessional lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand, and through his work at the Right2Protest Project at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, Malematja is committed to changing paradigms surrounding protests, and helping them to become more effective.

This is achieved by providing legal assistance to community groups and protesters across the country, running workshops on how to protest peacefully and legally, filing bail applications for arrested protesters, and referring matters to member civil society organisations when cases go to trial.

“Peaceful protest actions must be seen as an effective method of public participation, key to any democratic state, as opposed to being perceived as an anti-government movement,” Malematja says.

With global events in 2020 illustrating the necessity and effectiveness of peaceful protest movements to enact real change, the work that Malematja and Right2Know do could not be more relevant and important.