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Law firm’s pro bono work crosses borders in Africa

18 April 2018

Bowmans’ Pan-African reach extends further than the legal aspects of some of the continent’s most complex business transactions; it also encompasses pro bono projects in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda.

Bowmans’ 2017/ 18 Pro Bono and Corporate Social Responsibility Report shows that it is successfully crossing borders to assist social enterprises in an array of fields, from rule-of-law research and human rights monitoring to community energy and small-scale farming projects and services for people with disabilities.

“Some exciting work was done by our lawyers in all the countries in which our offices are located. This not only benefited the social enterprises operating in these regions but also saw us receiving recognition from various international pro bono clearing houses,” says Fatima Laher, of counsel and head of Pro Bono at Bowmans. “Pro bono is an integral part of our firm as a whole and also in all of the jurisdictions in which we have offices.”

Employment rights a strong focus

In Kenya and Tanzania, where there is strong protection of employment rights, assisting NGOs to comply with local employment laws was an important pro bono focus in the 12 months to 28 February 2018.

Bowmans’ lawyers in Tanzania provided legal advice on employment law matters to Landesa, a land-rights NGO, and to Trees for the Future, which revitalises degraded farmland. Similarly, the firm’s lawyers in Kenya provided employment law advice to BioLite, which helps off-grid families in Africa to access safe, affordable energy.

Cross-border collaboration deepens impact

International humanitarian organisations that benefited from Bowmans’ commitment to pro bono work included the World Blind Union (WBU), representing an estimated 285 million blind or partially sighted people in 190 countries, and human rights watchdog Amnesty International.

The WBU project saw Bowmans’ lawyers in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda teaming up to provide advice on the three countries’ copyright legislation and assessing their readiness to ratify or implement the Marrakesh Treaty. This treaty is intended to give blind or partially sighted people access to books and other published materials.

In the case of Amnesty International, Bowmans continued to provide corporate legal services enabling the organisation to focus its limited resources on its frontline human rights work in Africa.

Ensuring justice is served

Promoting social justice and access to justice was once again an important pillar of the firm’s approach. For example acting for:

  • the South African Human Rights Commission in one of South Africa’s most publicised hate speech cases and obtaining a High Court judgement declaring that comments made by former newspaper editor Jonathan Qwelane amounted to hate speech;
  • Mr Dineo Kgatle, who had been unlawfully imprisoned for 24 months and securing his release when the Pretoria High Court rejected the State’s leave to appeal;
  • Mrs Hilda Taliwe, a mother whose son had disappeared in 1989, helping her to obtain a death certificate and enabling her to claim much-needed pension benefits.

“These are just a few of the many highlights of the work we have done in endeavouring to bring access to justice and legal services to those most in need,” says Laher. “We have also assisted refugees, victims of domestic violence and employees facing unfair discrimination at the workplace, and helped empower many emerging entrepreneurs by providing access to legal advice.”

In total, Bowmans invested over 10 000 hours in pro bono work in 2017/ 18, equating to ZAR 23.2 million.

Read the full report here.