Zinhle Ngwenya

Advocate, The Bridge

Zinhle Ngwenya always knew that she wanted to study law and in Grade 11, she spent a week job shadowing attorneys. “During this week I was drawn to two things,” she says. “First, the work that they were doing had a real impact either on people’s lives or their businesses.

In some cases, their advice was the difference between someone being found guilty of a crime or being denied bail and in other cases their advice was the difference between a business remaining open or having to close its doors.

“Secondly, there was a real sense of professional courtesy and collegiality among the attorneys, whether it was in the office or in courts. That sense of collegiality, respect and common courtesy are values that were upheld even though different attorneys may have been opponents.”

When Ngwenya was practicing as an attorney, her special area of focus was labour law, and she has continued in this field since joining the Johannesburg Society of Advocates, as well as pursuing a keen interest in public and constitutional law. H e r b i g g e s t weapon against the glass ceiling, Ngwenya admits, is excellence. She prides herself on the ability to outwork anyone. It is for this reason perhaps that she was part of the team that appeared for the Human Rights Commission against John Qwelane for hate speech against homosexuals. She also recently appeared as a junior counsel on behalf of Black Sash in the seminal case dealing with social grants.

Ngwenya is currently appearing on behalf of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which has been granted the status of a friend of the court, in the case of the Law Society of South Africa vs The President of South Africa, in the case about the latter’s decision to suspend the SADC tribunal. Ngwenya would like to grow her practice in socio-economic rights litigation, to protect the rights of the vulnerable and marginalised members of our society who cannot afford to litigate on their own behalf.

She also intends to address transformation in the legal profession. “Many of the cases which are brought to the courts on behalf of the vulnerable members of our society are represented by white advocates. I think it’s important for us as black advocates to be actively involved in litigation relating to socio-economic rights,” she says. “There are also certain areas of the law, like maritime or shipping law, where the industry experts and seniors are traditionally white males and their juniors also white males. If you are not connected to these industry experts, it’s difficult to gain access and experience in these areas of law.”

— Kerry Haggard

Twitter: @ZeeNgwenya