Marikana inquiry is a lucrative business

2013-07-28 14:00

A legal battle about the funding of lawyers representing injured miners at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry has sparked a fresh debate about legal fees in South Africa.

Questions have been raised regarding the staggering R30?million that has already been spent by government on advocates representing the police.

This was revealed in court papers filed by Advocate Dali Mpofu in his bid to secure state funding for the legal representation of the wounded and arrested Lonmin miners.

Mpofu alleged that the state was coughing up between R2?million and R3?million a month for the police’s legal representation, which would total about R30?million.

This was not disputed by legal representatives acting for the police when the case was argued in the North Gauteng High Court last week.

But a senior official involved in the commission told City Press that questions are also being asked about why Mpofu’s legal team declined a R2?million grant from the Raith Foundation, in effect necessitating the court action by Mpofu and destabilising the commission.

“If someone offers you R2?million, why don’t you take it?” asked the official.

But a supporter of Mpofu’s legal team hit back, asking why nobody has asked why the police needed a team of seven advocates to represent them while victims of the massacre should make do with just one.

The police’s legal team includes top silks Ishmael Semenya and Frank Mathibedi.

While the court last week dismissed Mpofu’s application to compel President Jacob Zuma and the justice department to pay his team’s legal fees, he now plans to appeal directly to the Constitutional Court.

In October last year, the law firm representing the wounded and arrested miners, Maluleke Msimang & Associates (MMA), approached the Raith Foundation requesting about R6?million.

According to Muzi Msimang, an attorney and senior partner at MMA, the foundation told them “it could only provide R2.8?million for the first three months”.

He said: “When we budgeted for (the commission) we wanted to use more advocates for the case, but when we couldn’t get more funding we settled for using Mpofu and Lesego Mmusi, as well as four attorneys, for the first term of the commission.”

In January, the attorneys went back to the foundation requesting more funding.

In a letter written by the foundation’s director, Audrey Elster, the foundation approved, in principle, a grant of R2?million to them for the period March 18 until May 31, although MMA wanted R6.7?million.

“As matters currently stand, it is not clear to us whether MMA intends to take up the funding approved,” wrote Elster.

Mpofu and MMA then requested that the Raith Foundation review this decision, which is where the process has stalled, necessitating the court action to have the state fund the legal representatives of the commission.

By comparison, Legal Aid SA had spent R1.2?million in the past 10 months on legal representatives for families of the deceased.

The amount that Legal Aid SA can pay to legal representatives is limited by its guidelines.

Legal Aid SA’s spokesperson, Mpho Phasha, said the new April guidelines limited payment to a senior advocate to between R11?000 to R17?000 per day.

Msimang said that after their failed bid for further funding, they had again written to the state, but have received no response.

“We’ve had two meetings this week with the Raith Foundation, but they haven’t agreed to anything yet,” said Msimang.

Mpofu has not yet been able to appeal to the Constitutional Court for funding, as the North Gauteng High Court’s judgment has not yet been typed.

The police did not respond to requests for comment.

The cost of justice

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