Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

IN AN unprecedented move, lobby group Advocates For Transformation (AFT) will on Saturday seek the expulsion of the Cape Bar from the General Council of the Bar (GCB) over transformation concerns.

The move signifies a lack of unity among SA’s advocates over one of the most pressing issues facing the profession.

The AFT wants the Cape Bar to amend its constitution to require that 50% of its council, the governing body, should be nominated by the AFT, as is the case at the Johannesburg and Pretoria Bars. The GCB’s own governing structures are also constitutionally structured to be 50% AFT.

The Cape Bar’s constitution is different. It requires that 50% of members of its council be black — African, coloured, or Indian — but this is not dependent on organisational affiliation.

Until recently, the 50% black requirement meant in practice that 50% of the Cape Bar council’s members were in fact AFT members, as the majority of black members of the bar were AFT members. But there has been a bruising fallout in the AFT Western Cape branch, leading to 19 advocates resigning from the body.

AFT national chairman Dumisa Ntsebeza SC said the GCB had passed a resolution that required each of its constituent bars to constitutionally entrench that 50% of its members be nominated by the AFT.

Ntsebeza said the AFT’s mandate was to fight for a nonracial, nonsexist profession. Commitment to transformation was "not only about the colour of your skin. It is a mindset; a commitment to the values of the constitution."

This was why the AFT rejected the 50% black requirement in place in the Cape Bar. It could lead to "tricameral-type" arrangements, he said.

But chairwoman of the Cape Bar council, Tanya Golden SC, said if such a motion were to be passed it would be null and void.

The GCB’s constitution was "very clear. It expressly states that it has no jurisdiction over the constituent bars save in respect of appeals in disciplinary matters and recommendations on rules of etiquette."

She said 50% AFT-nominated representation was not mandatory. This was clear by the fact that only two of the 11 bars that made up the GCB had the kind of co-governance model in their constitutions that the AFT wanted the Cape Bar to adopt.

"We don’t know why we are being singled out," Golden said.

While other bars might have implemented 50% AFT-nominated representation on their councils, not all bars in SA had entrenched the principle in their constitutions.

READ THIS: Advocates for Transformation seek Cape Bar's expulsion

She added that the Cape Bar was the first to amend its constitution in 2001 to provide that at least 50% of the seats on the bar council must be black, regardless of organisational affiliation.

Western Cape AFT chairman Gregory Papier said that over the years the same black AFT members were being "co-opted and positioned" on the Cape Bar council.

"AFT-Western Cape chose to distance itself from such endeavours, as it was considered as fronting," he said.

Papier said the Cape Bar’s transformation challenges were best addressed by organisational representation.

But Golden said people were nominated and elected to serve on the bar council, so it was "inevitable and unsurprising" that some of the more senior black members would be chosen on a more regular basis.

For about 15 years all the black members on the Cape Bar council served at the behest of AFT, or were nominated by it. This changed only after the "en masse resignation last year".

Golden said the fronting allegation nonsense, and highly defamatory. It is “nothing but a personal attack on the black members who resigned from AFT and who have served the Cape Bar and the cause of transformation with distinction for the last 18 years or so”.