Black lawyers blast Mbete

2015-03-01 06:00

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Black lawyers’ organisations are furious that the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, hires expensive, white-male advocates to win court cases involving Parliament.

The chairperson of Advocates for Transformation, Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, said the chief justice had repeatedly appealed to all sectors of government to promote the transformation of the legal profession by appointing black advocates, but it appeared even Parliament could not be bothered.

“Sometimes, when you ask some government attorneys why they are not appointing black advocates, they say: ‘We want people who are going to win the case,’” Ntsebeza said.

Parliament will be in the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town twice this week to defend its actions during the state of the nation address debacle.

Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett, generally regarded as one of South Africa’s best and most expensive advocates, will defend Parliament in two prominent cases – one against the DA and the other against the SA National Editors’ Forum (Sanef).

Sources in the legal profession estimate Gauntlett earns between R4?500 and R5?000 an hour.

One day in court would therefore cost Parliament (and taxpayers) between R45?000 and R50?000.

In January, Wim Trengove, who is also regarded in legal circles as one of the country’s best advocates, represented Parliament in the My Vote Counts case regarding private funding of political parties.

He commands fees that are similar to Gauntlett’s.

Ntsebeza said it was “unbelievable that the office with the highest authority in the legislature apparently thinks the only way to win cases is to appoint white advocates”.

“And that is by no means a reflection on Gauntlett or Trengove – they are my colleagues,” Ntsebeza added.

Andrew Breitenbach, also a senior advocate, is currently representing Mbete in a case in which Agang SA is questioning her competency to hold the office of the Speaker.

Krish Govender, an attorney and former member of the Judicial Service Commission, explains it is “government policy to empower previously disadvantaged advocates, but the problem is that there are not that many of them”.

“There is a great demand for black advocates, especially at a senior level, but the pool of experienced black advocates for such unprecedented cases is small. Many of these advocates are not available when such cases turn up,” Govender said.

But Govender also said the Speaker, “without a doubt has a duty to promote transformation. She should be doing it with great enthusiasm.”

He said government attorneys, who appoint advocates, were also often vetoed by their seniors when the final decision was made.

The president of the Black Lawyers’ Association, Busani Mabunda, said there was a clear tendency by government and Parliament to appoint white advocates and this was unacceptable.

“The time has come for them to tell us whether they have faith in black practitioners. Are they committed to transformation or not?”

Parliament had not responded to questions at the time of going to press.

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