College of Law

Unisa Law Clinic in the service of humanity

The Unisa Law Clinic's expansion into the Western Cape has made an immediate impact. The clinic has intervened in the ongoing saga of the Stellenbosch University student Babalo Ndwayana, the 19-year-old Stellenbosch University student whose belongings were urinated.

Nomonde Gxilishe, Principal Attorney, Unisa Law Clinic, Western Cape

Nomonde Gxilishe, Principal Attorney at the Unisa Law Clinic Western Cape, explains that The Unisa Law Clinic strives to help the community by providing affordable legal services to indigent persons and those who cannot afford access to justice. She says: "Having looked at the sensitive nature of the matter (involving racism), it was important that the victim receives quality guidance and representation." She adds: "Furthermore, we knew that because the fight against racism always invites public attention, our client would be faced with conflicting views and possibly condemnation for wanting to address his grievance. Therefore, we saw it fitting that we hold his hand through the daunting process as a 19-year-old first-year student."

Unisa Law Clinic expansion

The Unisa  Law Clinic, which Advocate Kgagudi Morota heads, decided to expand into three other regions: Middleburg, Polokwane and Parow. The decision was primarily to ensure that communities far from the Unisa Muckleneuk campus also get access to the Law Clinic's services. Its primary service is to offer pro bono services to community members.

In the case of Ndwayana, the National Prosecuting Authority will prosecute the preparator, Theuns du Toit, with charges of malicious damage to property and crimen injuria.

Possible prosecution of the perpetrator

Nomonde Gxilishe, Principal Attorney at the Unisa Law Clinic Western Cape, explains that the Unisa Law clinic is representing Ndwayana in the matter at the Western Cape high court,  with an expectation of du Toit's expulsion from the university. Gxilishe also explains that they also expect a criminal prosecution resulting in a criminal sanction against the perpetrator; and, lastly, compensation for the damage caused to the clinic's client.

She adds: "These cases should not be taking place within the Republic of South Africa. The fact that a young white boy can confidently enter the room of a fellow black student and start urinating on his belongings is a matter of great concern." Gxilishe continues: "Our view is that until cases of racism are dealt with accordingly, and in proportion to the damage that they cause to victims, perpetrators will continue to prey on their victims."  She explains that although the pace has been slow, the clinic is confident its client will attain the justice he deserves.

Social impact

Asked about the clinic's view on justice, Gxilishe explains: "It is challenging to obtain justice when you cannot afford legal fees. At every step, in this case, we realised that had our client not had the backup of the Unisa Law Clinic, this matter would have been swept under the rug a long time ago." She explains further: "Firstly, this view is based on dealing with a biased panel appointed to handle the internal disciplinary hearing against the perpetrator at Stellenbosch University. Secondly, having to propel the SAPS to take decisive action against the perpetrator in the criminal law context despite them having been provided with every piece of information required to make a decision."  Gxilishe adds that although the clinic is making good strides on behalf of its client,  they are not happy with how long it takes for people who cannot afford legal fees to get justice.

She adds that the Western Cape community has welcomed the Unisa Law Clinic launch in the province. "Having spoken to several community members, they have expressed how they feel about having practitioners they can relate to," says Gxilishe. "Despite the high number of law clinics in the Western Cape, community members have expressed that it feels as though it is the first time they can say they have access to legal aid," she adds.

The Unisa Law Clinic has received varying instructions in the short space of time that it has been operating. Apart from the Stellenbosch matter, it has also assisted a client in another controversial matter where she was dismissed for her HIV status. This matter is also one that was publicised and covered by several news reports. "We assisted the client quickly and effectively, ensuring that her employer reinstated her," says Gxilishe.

She concludes: "While the big impact cases have been major points of focus, we have also been able to assist clients with their divorces, domestic violence, maintenance, etc." She adds: "With all these cases, we see how much the Unisa Law Clinic is making a difference in communities."

* By Ngwako Mokgotho, Communications and Marketing Specialist, College of Law

Publish date: 2022/11/22