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Change the world


In a public lecture at Nelson Mandela University, advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi said: “Considering 27 of those years were spent in prison, it tells us about the resilience of the man and the fact he was not prepared to let those conditions in prison prevent him from obtaining his dream of being Mandela the lawyer.

“This is a man who was prepared to sit and wait his turn and to sit through the struggles of both prison and life,” Ngcukaitobi said.

His lecture was organised by the university’s law faculty and The Herald.

It was part of ongoing commemorative events to celebrate Mandela’s centenary.

After Mandela moved to Johannesburg from the Eastern Cape in 1941, he registered for his LLB at the University of Witwatersrand, but failed several times, Ngcukaitobi said.

In those years it not been necessary to have an LLB to be signed up for articles, and Mandela and former ANC president Oliver Tambo had opened a legal firm.

“You could sign up for articles with your BA degree, which he had.

“Another example was Oliver Tambo, because he had a BSc degree specialising in mathematics and physics and he worked as an advocate clerk.”

They eventually opened Mandela & Tambo Attorneys.

Mandela finally completed his studies while he was in prison after he was sentenced to life in 1963 for conspiring to overthrow the state.

Ngcukaitobi said that during his time as a practising lawyer, Mandela had been flamboyant and had put a lot of thought into his appearance.

At Mandela & Tambo Attorneys, he had stretched the bounds of ethical behaviour for the benefit of his clients.

Ngcukaitobi said the era of Mandela as a lawyer interested him because he was intrigued by black intellectual thought during the era of apartheid.

“I don’t want to understand black lives only as outlaws or people that resisted, but also people who fought for alternative ways of being.

“That there was a possibility for a new world order even in the context of regression of apartheid – and Mandela fits this kind of intellectual project – trying to find out what life was like for lawyers of the 19th to 21st century.”

Ngcukaitobi said he was trying to investigate Mandela’s life between 1952 and 1962, which was a relatively short period, historically speaking. “This area of Mandela’s life is completely under-researched.

“We know a lot about Mandela the revolutionary, Mandela who started Umkhonto we Sizwe, Mandela who went to prison and the Mandela who gave the famous Rivonia Trial speech.

“We know very little of what it was like to be in court with Mandela, what it must have been like to be his client and listening to Mandela arguing a case in court and what impact his own experiences as a lawyer had in the shaping of the man he subsequently became,” he said.

Ngcukaitobi described Mandela’s life as a paradox because South Africa had encountered the lawyer and, in the same vein, encountered the outlaw, the constitutionalist and the revolutionary.

Prior to starting his lecture at the north campus auditorium, Ngcukaitobi was announced as the university’s newest adjunct professor for criminal law.

He said he was honoured by the appointment.

“I’ve got probably two or three appointments as a senior researcher or research fellow, but [this] is a high personal honour.

“And it is particularly significant coming from both the Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela University, so I felt personally honoured to be appointed,” Ngcukaitobi said.

 ANALYSING AN ICON: Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi focuses on Nelson Mandela the lawyer during his lecture at NMU, which was organised by the university’s law faculty and The Herald


This article appeared in The Herald of 12 October 2018 written by Nomazima Nkosi

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