Guest Column

Black Bar association a positive step to fight racism in legal fraternity

2018-11-07 11:47
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It should be an inspiration to us that the new Bar association has categorically declared itself unapologetically black, writes Mcebo Dlamini.

The idea of Pan-Africanism is no doubt one that refuses to die. It always manages to find expression within the cracks of our society. It is an idea that was conceived many years ago, yet its principles still remain relevant in our society even today.

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A group of black and female advocates recently announced their intention to form their own separate Bar association. Their Bar association, unlike other Bars in South Africa, will not fall under the General Council of the Bar (GCB) and will be called the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa (Pabasa).

The Bar association will consist of black and female advocates. The simple intention behind its formation is to transform the legal field which is currently dominated by white heterosexual males. 

It is safe to say that the founders believe that the GCB is largely untransformed. They believe that it subjects black advocates to the indignity of always having to beg or be subordinate to their white counterparts. 

It is not surprising that in a country with a tragic history such as ours racism still finds a way to permeate our present. Here I am not speaking about racism that presents itself in the spectacular kind of way that most people understand racism to be.

Racism is not only white people with sjamboks brutally kicking a black farm worker. Racism, as Joel Modiri suggests, is an ingrained feature of the social order which appears often in nuanced and subliminal ways. The ways can take the form of a general Bar council that is still dominated by white people almost three decades after the democratic dispensation.

Racism is when black advocates do not get work even when they are equally as qualified as their white colleagues. Racism is when black women have to work twice as hard to prove that they are competent and equally qualified.

It is for these reasons that a group of black advocates who were tired of being marginalised decided to form their own association. These are no doubt noble reasons. 

It is also no coincidence that they have decided to name the new Bar the Pan African Bar Association of South Africa. The name makes it quite clear what their guiding ideology is. This not surprising for pan-Africanism has at its core the intention of uniting all Africans. 

From Kwame Nkrumah to Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe the ideology of Pan-Africanism is interested in how Africans can unite under one banner in order to destroy all the chains that seek to shackle them. Pan-Africanism, in the words of Nkrumah, seeks to re-establish the dignity of Africans in a world that has hitherto considered them none.

Black people in the GCB have been continuously stripped off their dignity by always having to justify their existence in the space. It cannot be that we continue to be subordinates of people who refuse to recognise us as equally competent. What we ought to do in such situations is to unite on the basis of our commonality and this is what Pan-Africanist ideology teaches us. 

It should be an inspiration to us that the new Bar association has categorically declared itself unapologetically black. There is no shame in this. In fact, Biko in 1969 taught us that an exclusively black association should not be something that is approached with hesitance. Whites have, for many years, been deliberately working towards excluding us from their institutions. Why then should it be a transgression when we unite on the basis of our blackness?

Those who oppress or marginalise us cannot and should not be allowed to oppress us and also dictate the ways and means in which we protest. As Biko suggested we must stick together with a tenacity that will shock all those who wish to undermine us.

What Pabasa has done should be a lesson to all black people, even those who are outside of the legal fraternity, that there is no shame in uniting with people who share the same pain as you. If white people want to be in solidarity with us they should do so on our terms and conditions. 

Pabasa must be supported by all black people and all other legal practitioners must join this Bar if they are true to the ideal of helping South Africa move forward. The Bar also has a responsibility towards society. It should not only exist to create wealthy advocates or just be about black excellence.

It must understand that its existence is not only for their enrichment but it ought to ensure that legal services are accessible to the poor majority of this country. It must contribute towards creating a corrupt free South Africa and advance our threatened democracy. They must be advocates of change, of upliftment, advocates of the people. In conclusion we see ourselves in the group of black professionals who refused to dance to the tune of a white minority that continues to undermine competent black people.

May the spirit that captured them also find expression in other sectors of society such that we reach a point where being black is not synonymous with being subordinate. 

- Dlamini is a former Wits SRC President and student activist. He writes in his personal capacity.

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Read more on:    gcb  |  mcebo dlamini  |  racism  |  law


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