'Perfectly legitimate' for Sello to accept Phala Phala brief - advocates' group defends panellist

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Advocate Mahlape Sello seen during the Zondo Commission.
Advocate Mahlape Sello seen during the Zondo Commission.
PHOTO: Masi Losi, Gallo Images/Sowetan
  • The Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA) says criticism of advocate Mahlape Sello is unsubstantiated.
  • Its response comes amid scrutiny of Sello's independence.
  • She was a member of the Section 89 panel who found that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated the Constitution in the Phala Phala matter.

The Johannesburg Society of Advocates (JSA) has come out in defence of advocate Mahlape Sello SC – a member of the Section 89 panel appointed to establish whether there was evidence of wrongdoing by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the Phala Phala matter.

This comes amid criticism and questions about her independence.

Sello was one of the Section 89 panel members who found that President Cyril Ramaphosa may have violated the Constitution and anti-corruption laws in his Phala Phala dealings.

READ | Ramaphosa slams Section 89 panel for relying on Fraser’s 'say-so' on Phala Phala accusations

On Monday, the JSA said Sello adhered to the Uniform Rules of Ethics of the General Council of the Bar of South Africa and did not become personally entangled in clients' affairs.

According to the JSA, the rules prescribe that advocates should, without fear, uphold their clients' interests without regard to any consequences to themselves.

News24 reported that the chairperson of Advocates for Transformation, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, said criticism of Sello appeared to centre around her representation of suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule in an earlier case against the party and Ramaphosa.

In 2021, Magashule challenged his suspension in the Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.

The JSA said the perceived lack of independence by Sello was unsubstantiated and informed by a misunderstanding of the law.

"It is not uncommon for advocates to act as judges and to preside on matters in which one or other of the parties appearing before such a member may either have been represented by the member or against whom the member may previously have acted in unrelated litigation," the JSA said.

Earlier, Ngcukaitobi said Sello's previous representation of Magashule did not disqualify her from acting as a Section 89 panellist in the Phala Phala matter.

He said:

Advocates are independent and cannot be associated with the causes of their clients. It was thus perfectly legitimate for advocate Sello SC to accept the brief from the Speaker of Parliament. She was not disqualified from acting as a member of the panel merely because she had previously acted for Mr Magashule in unrelated proceedings.

The Phala Phala saga came to light in June when former director-general of the State Security Agency (SSA) and former correctional services commissioner Arthur Fraser opened a kidnapping and money laundering case against Ramaphosa, the head of the Presidential Protection Unit, Major General Wally Rhoode, and Crime Intelligence members.

Fraser alleged that they had concealed the theft of millions of US dollars at Ramaphosa's Phala Phala farm in February 2020.

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