The Black Lawyers Association (BLA) is deeply appalled by the media reports that Transnet, a state-owned company, has appointed Werksmans Attorneys, a white law firm, to oversee a board-level probe into allegations of corruption relating to its purchase of locomotives for China South Rail (CSR).
BLA has questioned the Government of South Africa on its continued disregard of black legal practitioners as it continues to give rewarding and lucrative legal work to white law firms and white male advocates. This action by the Government confirms the findings of the recent research conducted by the Law Society South Africa, that the briefing patterns and distribution of legal work is skewed in favour of the white minority. The action by Transnet, amid calls to correct skewed briefing patterns, to continue to give white legal practitioners more rewarding legal work, is an utter display of arrogance.
The BLA is concerned, as it would seem, that the Government does not have control of who the Departments, State Owned Companies and Municipalities brief or instruct in respect to their legal work. The State Attorney, which is supposed to be the office through which the State’s legal work is channeled, has a very limited role to play as Government departments and the State Owned Companies are not compelled to utilize its services. Its other shortcoming is that its legislative competency to brief advocates as opposed to instructing attorneys. Further, the amount of legal work which is done through the offices of the State Attorney is negligible as compared to the total state legal work. Therefore, the State’s statistics of the amount of legal work given to black legal practitioner is only in respect of the work given by the state attorneys and as such is not a true reflection of the distribution of state legal work as the bulk of legal work is in the hands of State Owned Companies or Enterprises.
BLA is tired of lip service. We demand action above cheap talk. On a daily basis we hear members of the cabinet talking baldly of radical economic transformation without any detail on how same will benefit the previously disadvantaged legal practitioners. Radical economic transformation, let alone economic transformation, will never be achieved if the majority of our population are not included in the plan to participate meaningfully in the mainstream economy. It flies in the face of logic that our Government and the governing party are heard to condemn White Monopoly Capital but in their action they continue to support law firms like Werksmans Attorneys who have been the beneficiaries of White Monopoly Capital for the past 100 years. Willing, the state alone, can sustain and change the fortunes all black legal practitioners in the country.
Transnet as an organ of state is required, in terms of section 217 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. When it contracts for goods or services it must to do so in accordance with a system which is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost-effective. In order to comply with the provisions of section 217, Transnet is required to issue a Request for Bid (RFB) in an open and transparent manner so that all interested service providers must show interest. BLA did not see any RFB by Transnet in respect of the contract awarded to Werksmans Attorneys. We, therefore, challenge the legality of the appointment of Werksmans Attorneys as same did not comply with the prescripts of the supreme law of the country. BLA calls upon the management of Transnet to cancel this appointment and issue an RFT openly for all legal practitioners to have an opportunity compete, failing which we will approach court to get same set aside without delay.
BLA will not relent in its fight against the unfair distribution of legal work. BLA has planned to stage a national march against skewed briefing patterns and unequal distribution of work against black and female legal practitioners by the state at the Union Building on the 14th July 2017. The purpose of this march is to hand over a memorandum of grievances by black legal practitioners to the President of the Republic of South Africa. This will be a practical message to the President that we are tired of empty promises and that we deserve to be taken seriously.
Black Lawyers Association: President