Call for share in R56m legal pot

Deputy Mayor Mongameli Bobani
File picture: Eugene Coetzee

Black lawyers feel sidelined by Bay municipality

Black lawyers in Nelson Mandela Bay want a fair share of the municipal legal budget which ran as high as R56-million in the past financial year.

This emerged during a meeting between the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) yesterday and deputy mayor Mongameli Bobani.

BLA Eastern Cape chairman Bayethe Maswazi said there was an unfair pattern which seemed to exclude black lawyers for both government and private work.

Maswazi said it had reached such drastic levels that the national body intended to march in Pretoria on July 14.

But Maswazi said the meeting with Bobani had been in the right direction to address the issue.

“Despite the commitment from the deputy mayor we will continue to engage the municipality until something tangible comes out,” he said.

Bobani said the issue had been a problem for the past 20 years. “We have explained to them about how we appoint the panel. But they felt left out because work is given to certain individuals and they want to be a part of that,” Bobani said.

He said the panel was made up of 35 law firms and only 5% of those were black law firms.

A follow-up meeting would be held with the Attorneys Association of South Eastern Cape on Tuesday, where a range of issues would be discussed, including black lawyers wanting a bigger slice of the municipal pie.

“We will address all their concerns and not just one association,” Bobani said.

He said black lawyers got about 20% of municipal work, but it was usually for small cases.

Municipal budget and treasury political head Retief Odendaal said the last year’s legal expenditure had amounted to R56.3-million.

“It is one of the areas we are trying to cut back to save some money,” he said.

Attorney Zolile Ngqeza, who is part of the BLA, said it was not about making more money but about black lawyers getting more experience.

“It is about producing good judges and good magistrates. You spend 20 years as a criminal lawyer and then get appointed as a judge. You’re not going to only judge criminal cases but civil as well.

“You will be doing contracts, you will be dealing with commercial matters. How do you apply to situations where an advocate that appears before you knows more than you?”

He said people often criticised black judges but they simply never got a chance to tackle different types of law.

“They say they don’t know anything but we forget where they come from. It comes down to where they were practising as attorneys and whether they were exposed to this type of work,” he said.

“We are not saying that work must be removed from white attorneys. No, they are our colleagues. What we are saying is expose us to this type of work as well. We need to appear in the high court so that we get used to appearing in the high court,” he said.

Lawyer Carolyn Ah Shene, who is not part of the BLA, said a more favourable distribution was required to reflect the demographics of the city.

“A number of practitioners feel left out in the cold,” she said.

“The municipality is very selective in whom it turns to when legal help is needed.”

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