Advocates clear the colour bar

2012-09-15 18:02

New Joburg group attracts top black and white professionals

A group of Johannesburg advocates has decided to strike out on its own in a bid to escape the “racial trenches” that prevail in the ­profession.

City Press can reveal some members of two of Johannesburg’s most prominent groups of advocates are planning to break away to start a new, nonracial group.

More than 40 advocates from the predominantly black Duma Nokwe Group and from the predominantly white Island Group are understood to be in the final stages of negotiating the establishment of the new group.

The breakaway groups are led by two of South Africa’s most highly regarded senior counsel, advocates Vincent Maleka and Wim Trengove.

Trengove this week said they were “determined to build a ­nonracial group that has a ­nonracial attitude”.

“What we realise is it can’t be the white way or the black way. It will have to be a third way,” said ­Trengove.

Maleka said the purpose of the group was to go “beyond talking about empowerment”.

Among the chief priorities for the new group would be ensuring there was a space for new advocates to make a living and to learn crucial ­advocacy skills, said Maleka.

“The idea is to try and promote in-house advocacy training, including appeal advocacy and trial advocacy, in a way that guarantees the transfer and sustainability of advocacy skills.”

He said the group would also strive to be a “destination of choice” for pro bono (free) work.

Maleka admitted the project was “highly ambitious” and he had not overlooked the difficulties.

This is evidenced by the opposition the new group has already faced from what are considered more  conservative factions.

Trengove, chief executive of Island, tried to bring his entire group to the new one, but the resolution did not enjoy majority support.

As it stands, only 18 members of Island will leave with Trengove.

Advocate Mike Hellens is one of those who opposed the move.

Hellens told City Press this was because it would mean a move to an expensive Sandton building.

“Quite frankly, you don’t need to start out life as a junior (advocate), especially a black junior, in one of the most expensive buildings in Sandton.

“People might dress it up as a ­racial issue, of conservative and progressive, but it’s really not.”

Advocate Patric Mtshaulana will not be leaving Duma Nokwe to join the new group, but said this did not mean he did not support it.

“It is ushering in a new era in which senior white advocates are taking it upon themselves to ­transfer skills to black advocates as well as white advocates,” said Mtshaulana.

It is understood about 30 members of Duma Nokwe will be ­leaving for the new group, ­although some are still making up their minds.

One of the most significant sticking points that remain between those splitting from Island and Duma Nokwe is a proposed ownership stake in the new premises.

Maleka has denied claims that he owns any part of the new building, but said the Duma Nokwe group wanted the new group to buy a one-third share in the building.

Breakaway members from Island are opposed to this, but ­negotiations are still under way.

If successful, the move to ­establish a new group is likely to drastically alter the face of the ­profession in Johannesburg.

Trengove said a number of independent advocates and members of other groupings had already indicated their willingness to join the new group, bringing the approximate number of members to 65.

Included among the ranks of the new group are respected advocates Gilbert Marcus, Vas Soni, Alfred Cockerell, Phillip Mokoena, Tony Rubens, Lindi Nkosi-Thomas, Kgomotso Moroka and Les Morison.

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