Partner, Fasken Martineau
Sushila Dhever grew up in a township, where she saw how people in her community struggled to access justice and basic services. She saw law as a means to empower people, and made it her social mission to enter the profession to facilitate access to justice. “I realised that I would have to obtain a degree if I really wanted to effectively improve my community,” she says. “Pursuing my tertiary education was not easy.
I had to apply for bursaries and work two part-time jobs. While studying, I had to be very resourceful and diligent so that I could survive and still pursue my dream. “However, these challenges did not deter me but only fuelled my determination to succeed.” Now a partner in the Labour, Employment and Human Rights division of Fasken Martineau, Dhever is also head of the firm’s pro bono litigation and related initiatives. She has expertise in human rights, constitutional impact litigation, children’s rights, gender law, housing policy, land rights, legal advocacy, law reform, and assisting refugees from sub-Saharan Africa.
“My initial projects focussed on facilitating access to justice in the townships to women and children,” she explains. “I started two legal clinics in the township to assist with gender- based violence, child abuse, maintenance and social grant issues. “My focus has since extended to social development and economic empowerment. This led me to start up a Business Law Clinic in Soweto for local entrepreneurs. Staffed by lawyers at our firm, the clinic provides pro bono commercial legal advice and assistance to SMMEs in the township. The project aims to alleviate unemployment and develop blackowned female and local businesses.”
She has also established law clinics in townships to provide free legal services to women and children, in partnership with the Nisaa Institute for Women’s Development, and the family and marriage healthcare organisation Famsa. She was nominated as a finalist in 2015 for most committed and dedicated pro bono lawyer and in 2014, Fasken Martineau received an award for the firm with most pro bono hours, and won an award for the firm with the most dedicated pro bono department in 2016. In 2015 alone, the firm’s attorneys spent approximately 3 815 hours on pro bono work, with the notional cost to the firm being approximately R10-million. Dhever also received the Ubuntu Award from Nisaa for her commitment and dedication to upholding women’s rights. “If you decide to pursue a career in law, be passionate about the law and developing your legal skills,” says Dhever.
“Success follows when you’re passionate and hardworking. Always remember there is value in helping others, and that we are all part of a system.”
— Kerry Haggard