Attorney, Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Nomonde Nyembe is an attorney at the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (Cals), a former clerk of the Constitutional Court and former fellow of the UCLA-Sonke Health and Human Rights Fellowship. She currently leads the Business and Human Rights Programme at Cals and has been instrumental in litigating against the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) during the recent social grants crisis. Cals, representing the Black Sash Trust, approached the Constitutional Court in February this year to ensure that the social grants system and its beneficiaries were protected when the contract between Sassa and Cash Paymaster Services came to an end in March. Nyembe is one of the unsung heroes of this victory.
She is also busy leading work on women in mining, representing the family of a woman raped and killed underground and hoping to hold the mine responsible for the protection of the female staff from gender-based violence.
Motivation for 31-year-old Nyembe to carry out the work that she does comes from her own lived experiences. “I am a black woman, I come from a black woman, and the experiences of black women resonate with me at a cellular level. Both patriarchy and racism are self-executing policies, although they were created to benefit some and exploit others. As such they have both latent and patent manifestations, and I have a responsibility to find ways to address them.”
She remains inspired by women: Bonita Meyersfeld, Sisonke Msimang, Vuyiseka Dubula, to name a few, and her mother and late grandmother. She also finds the young women she works with to be inspiring, and says that their unseen efforts are their greatest wins: inspiring and encouraging black women, and being willing to lower themselves to act as a ladder for black women — something she also strives to do.
While Nyembe has plenty to say about young people, she has a more important message for older people: “Create the opportunities for young people, build the ladders, expand the space and when they talk — listen.”
And her hopes for South Africa? “I would like South Africa to move from being one of the most unequal societies with regards to wealth, race and gender to an equal one.”
— Aaisha Dadi Patel