Claims of racism at the Mthatha judiciary have resulted in a protest involving legal professionals.
Black lawyers and advocates have downed tools over alleged racism and favouritism in the city. They say black-owned law firms are being overlooked, while white-owned ones are prioritised.
It’s an unusual protest involving those who safeguard the law.
Lawyers and advocates gathered at the Mthatha High Court and they are calling on the Department of Justice to hastily address their grievances.
Among them, alleged non-payment of R20-million by the state attorney’s office. They also claim the senior state attorney practise favouritism and racial segregation.
“When this work is taken away from us, it’s given to white lawyers and predominantly in this division. There’s black lawyers; that is why there is that issue of racial undertone. We are excluded as black practitioners whereas there are talks of transformation,” says Lawyers March Leader, Sinawo Makhangela.
Big corporates are also being accused of sidelining women and black lawyers.
“This is a trend all over. Corporate doesn’t brief black practitioners and black females in particular and women in general. This is a serious setback in our transformation agenda. So, it is high time that the authorities act with speed to ensure transformation is accelerated and we don’t have incidents like this one, that are reported like racism, nepotism, that are reported by the lawyers here,” says Law Society of South Africa President, Mvuzo Notyesi.
“The payment is supposed to be done within 30 days. As I am standing here, I last saw payment in December 2018. I never received payment since January until this day. This is so frustrating. It is killing us inside. As females, we are few in this legal profession, but we are not recognized. We are feeling that there is no equality because we are not getting briefs like men,” says Women Lawyers Association, Adv Zandile Ndesi-Gilikidla.
Protesting lawyers have met with the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
“I have listened very carefully to the demands on this memo. I am fully conscious about the timeline set herein. I receive this on behalf of the minister, the deputy minister and myself. I will go back to them to discuss with them and respond within the time set here,” says Director General Justice and Constitutional Development, Vusi Madonsela.
The Justice Department has until the 14th of June to respond.