Resignation of 2 top advocates highlight transformation issues in legal profession, says Ngcukaitobi

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Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi is known for representing the EFF in court.
Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi is known for representing the EFF in court.
Felix Dlangamandla
  • The resignation of two top advocates speaks to a failure to embrace transformation within the legal profession, says acclaimed advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.
  • This week, advocate Anton Katz left the Cape Bar after a dispute over the organisation's housing policy, which forces members to keep approved chambers.
  • Advocate Ishmael Semenya resigned from the Johannesburg Society of Advocates last month, after a decision was taken to prevent non-members from practicing in the Pitje Chambers.

The resignation of two top advocates from their respective legal associations speaks to a lack of transformation within the legal profession, according to acclaimed advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi.

READ | Anton Katz SC resignation: Cape Bar policy disadvantages black, female advocates

Ngcukaitobi shared on his Facebook page that while the resignations of Anton Katz SC and Ishmael Semenya SC, from the Cape Bar and Johannesburg Society of Advocates respectively, raised issues of policy and rules within the legal fraternity on the face of it, "a deeper understanding of both their letters shows that the issues relate to concerns about the untransformed culture of the Bar".

"The Legal Practice Act calls for the transformation of the profession, from the bottom up. Yet experience shows our collective inability to embrace the new norms," said Ngcukaitobi.

This week, Katz left the Cape Bar after almost 30 years, citing a dispute over a housing policy - which disadvantaged young black and female advocates - as the reason for his resignation.

Katz also lambasted the Bar for its "authoritarian mindset".

The housing policy was widely regarded as outdated and had been acknowledged as being in need of radical reform, Katz said. He added that this policy had a "severe effect on junior black and female advocates, who may have serious financial challenges".

Response

Cape Bar president advocate Brenton Joseph indicated the organisation would release a statement on Tuesday in response to Katz's resignation.

Last month, Semenya resigned from the Johannesburg Society of Advocates after 34 years as a member. Semenya said the tipping point had been a resolution taken to prevent non-JSA members from practicing in the Pitje Chambers in the Johannesburg city centre.

Semenya stated that the housing rule was antiquated.

"I refuse to be a member of an association that says to persons who qualify to practice as referral legal practitioners under the laws of the country, cannot do so with their colleagues at the Bar unless they take membership of the JSA. This, to me, is market segmentation per force," Semenya said.

In response to Semenya's resignation, Johannesburg Society of Advocates chairperson Kennedy Tsatsawane SC said he was saddened by the resignation and the reasons for it.

He added that "there was still room, in fact lots of room, to avoid the decision which [Semenya has] now taken."

Tsatsawane added that he hoped to resolve the issues raised by Semenya at the organisation's AGM.

Ngcukaitobi shared his belief that the issues raised by the resignations spoke to the profession's inability to implement effective transformation.

These issues had been exacerbated by Covid-19, Ngcukaitobi added, and junior legal professionals felt the impact more acutely.

The general response to calls for transformation had been "empty epithets", Ngcukaitobi said.

"The problem, of course, is that the answers to the problems of the profession lie in the profession itself. But it needs to first accept its complicity in continued marginalisation and prejudices against black and women practitioners."

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