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Thando Sibongiseni Gumede, a final year Law student at Wits, is not only an Allan Gray Scholarship recipient and a Brightest Young Minds (BYM) awardee, but is also an advocate for the education of black girl children and substantive equality. A self-proclaimed feminist, she remains highly competitive in a male dominated industry.
You are studying Law but also have a keen interest in entrepreneurial activities, why?
Where the world is going is something I like to call cross-educational pollination. It means that gone are the days where law students go to law school to become a lawyer. So now, faculties will be teaching skills, skills that can go anywhere and in any way they want to.
Entrepreneurship is a mind-set where you identify inefficiencies and then solve those problems. So when you have cross-educational pollination, then someone who’s an engineer has got the hopes of becoming the president, not just a politics student.
You were chosen as one of the ‘Brightest Young Minds’. What exactly does that mean and how do you feel to be chosen as one?
It’s about collecting the brightest young minds on the African continent, 100 people all over Africa came together through a selection process. It wasn’t about marks, it was really just about people who presented ideas and presented themselves in a genuine way. All I can say is wow! The event was a great networking opportunity.
What are you currently working on?
There are basically two things I’m working on, it’s a new technology for sanitary pads and the other is a tech company. I’ve written a research paper on that [the former], it was about the right to basic education for black girl children in rural South Africa; one of the hindrances of going to school is [a girls] menstruation, so their biological disposition.
The postulation I make is that I say to the state, it has a constitutional obligation to balance the scales for both boys and girls.
You say you are an advocate for education and particularly substantive education, what does that mean?
Government needs to provide proper sanitation in schools, pads and panties to girls, particularly to girls in that community, either through social grants or making those things freely available to them.
That is called substantive equality. It’s better than formal equality, substantive equality asks why? At the starting line you need to remove all the rocks and boulders that are on the race track for girls to be able to manoeuvre themselves freely and equally.
The Students for Law and Social Justice Wits established a space to discuss gender-related issues. The initiative is called Ubulili.
The Students for Law and Social Justice (SJSJ) have begun a gender campaign –
Ubulili is a Zulu word for ‘gender’, the campaign was started by SJSJ member, Cherise Clevely. According to Clevely, the university needed a gender initiative led by students. “I saw a gap in Wits for a forum that would tackle gender related issues,” she said.
Ubulili is a series of six in-depth discussions on gender-related issues, these discussions happen in a relaxed atmosphere where peer-learning is key. The members and the general public are each session. Clevely told Wits Vuvuzela that these discussions aim to “cut across lines that segregate people according to gender.”
The campaign kicked off last year but the first discussion was held this year, “Feminism” being the topic.
Tina Power, a participant told Wits Vuvuzela that the first seminar aimed to “bust the myth that men cannot be feminists.”
Before the seminar, members are sent reading material that forms the bases of the discussion in each seminar. This discussion is usually led by an expert in the Law department.
Professor Elsje Bonthuys from the Law School, told Vuvuzela that she was “thrilled” by the fact that the students took it upon themselves to start these discussions. “It is very interesting to hear what this generation thinks of these issues compared to mine.”
“We should infuse gender into other courses because gender influences our normal daily lives”, she said.
According to Clevely, it is important to raise awareness on campus about gender equality, especially because of the “misogynistic comments made by men’s residences recently”. She highlighted the importance of educating men, which is one of the objectives of Ubulili.
Ubulili also plans to start a sanitary drive where sanitary wear will be donated to students in need. This will be done in August to commemorate women’s month. “It is sad that a lot of girls miss school when they are on their periods because they cannot afford sanitary pads,” stated Clevely; “Periods are what make us women, so it should not be a shame when a woman is on her period.”
Students feel that the poor should not be used as “guinea pigs” for law graduates.
Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ) held a debate between UJ and Wits students about the pro bono clause of the Legal Services Bill. The clause says graduates must do pro bono work for a year after graduating with law degrees.
Sbu Mdluli, a UJ student, said the issue of poor communities not being able to access legal services has been a thorny one and is a result of South Africa’s history. Mdluli said he was against poor people’s legal woes being used as a way for law students to practise their skills.
“We want proper justice for all from qualified lawyers who will not use the poor as guinea pigs.”
He also argued that being made to work without being paid would make law graduates less passionate about their work.
Erica Emdon from ProBono.Org said community service should be voluntary but the Bill made it compulsory. She, however, felt voluntary work would benefit the student and the organisation being served.
“Community service would expose the student to a side of life they have never experienced before. It also provides extra capacity that does not have to be paid for by the organisation.”
Emdon said supervision and mentorship would be essential during community service to alleviate fears of unqualified lawyers being “let loose” on poor people.
Wits final year law student, Anastasia Okai-Brown, was upbeat about the possibility of community service.
“Community service would be a foot in the door. I would meet people who know other people, and network,” she said.
According to News24, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Jeff Radebe said the Bill is a landmark towards improving access to justice among the country’s poor communities.
The Wits Law Clinic, one of the biggest in the country, offers a compulsory practical course for the university’s final-year law students. It also provides opportunities for graduates to do their articles.
The two other universities with law clinics, University of Cape Town (UCT) and the Mandela Metropolitan University (MMU), also have compulsory practical courses as part of their law degrees.
If the Bill is enacted it would add more pro bono work for law graduates from these schools.
SLJS public relations officer Tinyiko Mbentse said they were not in support of the Legal Services Bill as a whole, but do support certain concepts within the Bill such as community work. “We see community service as a way to train students and diffuse legal knowledge into society,” Mbentse said.
One problem with the Bill is the possibility of students not being paid for that year. Mbentse said SLJS is researching medical and engineering paid community work and could suggest it be used as a possible framework for legal community work and stipends.
Published in Wits Vuvuzela 25th edition