Rhodes defends Mandelas’ funding

2013-07-26 00:00

IN defending its decision to represent the Mandela family in the dispute over the graves of former president Nelson Mandela’s children, Rhodes University said it was not uncommon for law clinics to represent groups of people who were not indigent.

“It is not uncommon for law clinics to represent groups of people, including some who are not indigent, in litigation involving matters that impact on human rights and the socioeconomic conditions of disadvantaged communities,” the university said.

The statement came after reports that the law clinic provided legal aid as some family members were regarded as indigent.

Attorney Wesley Hayes, a deputy director of the law clinic, had instructed advocate David Smith when the Mandelas took one of their own, Mandla, to court over the exhumation of the remains of Mandela’s three children at Mvezo to be reburied at Qunu.

Rhodes University said the indigent status of the Mandelas was assessed on an individual basis and not a family or group basis.

“At the time of the instruction, it was established that a number of the applicants were indigent. A call was made to the management of the law clinic requesting permission to take on the matter. Permission was granted, as the management was satisfied that there was compliance with the means test,” the university said.

It also said when a decision was taken to represent, the law clinic had a duty to do all that was needed to advance those individuals’ interests and secure their rights.

“It was decided that it would be beneficial for all the applicants to be joined in one application against the respondent.”

The university said its law clinic litigated on matters that impact on human rights and socioeconomic conditions of disadvantaged communities.

“In the Mandela grave dispute, the university said the matter involved tensions between the role of women in traditional matters, as against women’s constitutional rights.

“The view was that Mandla Mandela’s approach to deciding the family matter was at the expense of women’s voices in the family.”

The action by the law clinic to represent the Mandelas has caused uproar in some circles as several members of the Mandela family who were applicants in the matter own homes worth millions, drive expensive cars and have business interests.

The Star newspaper quoted top lawyer advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC as criticising the Rhodes Law Clinic for giving funding to the Mandelas.

He said the clinic had exceeded its mandate and the reasons given for funding the Mandelas were “spurious and disingenuous”.

“You only have to look at the 12 applicants — no one in their right minds can give them funding,” he was quoted as saying.

But the university said clients were not charged a fee and costs were recovered when the law clinic was successful in obtaining a court order for costs.

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