Naseema Fakir

Committed human rights and environmental lawyer Naseema Fakir is a slayer of giants. As acting regional director of the Johannesburg office of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) she tackles cases concerning the pollution accountability of mines and government, co-ordinates the centre’s Civil Society Project, engages with the problem of statelessness among refugee children, runs a large refugee practice that often requires fast-action litigation and still finds time for the managerial work her position entails. Thirty-two-year-old Fakir’s passion for human rights took root during her time at the University of the Witwatersrand. She applied for a position with the LRC, got it, and has stuck with it ever since. After completing her articles and becoming an attorney in 2006 she began cutting her teeth on refugee law. A year later, reports of pollution requiring urgent intervention began pouring into the centre. Fakir responded, and thus began a series of legal battles to make mining houses and government accountable for pollution — especially with regard to water safety. It is a fight that has carried through to this day and she still keeps swinging, running with cases that have been going since 2007. Recently she acted for the Carolina community in their successful court challenge compelling government to provide the community with access to clean water. In 2008 Fakir travelled to Mecca. “I’m very proud that I made that decision to go on pilgrimage; it wasn’t an easy one,” she says. “It’s changed my life since then, and I’ve carried the lessons that I learnt there into my everyday life.” In 2011, wanting to understand her religion better, and feeling the need for a fresh challenge, Fakir began an honours degree in Islamic Studies at the University of Johannesburg, which she completed last year. — Billy Rivers