Justice in the time of COVID-19: an interview on the outcome of LAW FOR ALL’s writing competition

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LAW FOR ALL, a company dedicated to fighting for equality and justice, recently hosted a writing competion.

Here is some background:

Competition: Write the future, right the wrongs

Jackie Nagtegaal discussed the aims of the competition with Naomi Meyer:

LAW FOR ALL writing competition – an interview with Jackie Nagtegaal

Jackie now talks to Naomi about the outcome of this competition: Write the future, right the wrongs.

Pictures of Lady Justice: Wikipedia and of Jackie Nagtegaal: https://www.africa-legal.com/news-detail/the-only-remaining-good-god-hope/

Jackie, your legal company recently hosted a writing competition with the theme: Write the future. The participants had to write a story on their visions of the future and suggest new laws to correct the wrongs of the past. Please could you elaborate on some of the themes of the entries you received?

We were taken aback by the entries, in terms of quantity and quality. Working towards access to justice, we become so used to the bleak reality we face. Fifty percent of South Africans have experienced legal problems within the last two years. Only 37% were able to get help. A quarter never even bothered. On average, it takes 338 days to resolve a dispute; people usually give up at 873 days. In a way, we suffer from fatigue; gruesome stats no longer work to shock us to transformation. 

As we read through these entries, the current reality was brought to life. Reading the poems and stories felt like a dive into the country’s conscience.

The major theme was gender-based violence. It remains one of the greatest challenges in our country. Far too many women are experiencing tremendous pain at the hands of men. Stories like “Brave” by Monicca Rampine and “Exit” by Maretha Maartens speak to this. (In the attachment)

Discrimination, racial inequality and the remnants of our past were also predominant. The experience of living in South Africa differs tremendously across racial and geographic lines. This came through clearly; many poems spoke to this, like “Nqo” by Siyabulela Javu, or is it wrong in the Top 10 document?]. (In the attachment)

There is also great anger and frustration at corruption and the abuse of power – at the failed dream of South Africa.

But what encouraged me throughout, in the darkest pieces, was a thread of hope that we can build better and still attain the dream we once voted for.

Are you excited about what this country’s legal system can change for the better in the new world awaiting young people – a world shaped by COVID-19, but also beyond this virus? A world with new challenges and new opportunities? What do you see happening already – good things and bad?

I am deeply worried about the current status quo, and how we will answer in the face of COVID. The justice inequality stands to be aggravated by the aftershock of the epidemic. At my work, I am seeing cases pouring in. We are dealing with a severe influx of people in need of help. South Africa’s formal legal sector was not geared for life before COVID, so any extra pressure will see a severe bottleneck and grave delays in the justice system.

Whether this is the trigger that transforms us, remains to be seen. I do stay hopeful. Working with many young people and meeting innovative lawyers geared for change spurs me on. We have passionate people in this country: young lawyers building lawbots to ease access to justice (https://lumalaw.co.za), activists raising their voices, strong NGOs and young high school kids taking part in protests and joining the voice of our country. In fact, during these difficult days, working harder than before, every now and then I close my eyes and listen to the competition winner’s video reading of her poem. She speaks with such wisdom and beauty, it fires me forward.

The video of her poem can be found here:

It’s good to see courts embracing technology. It’s good to see lawyers offering different payment plans. It’s good to see new ways of looking at the internet, with concepts like spectrum internet. These are all wildly positive in creating a more just society.

What is your view on challenges we face in this country’s legal system? Do you find it healthy that some of the government’s lockdown laws were recently challenged in the High Court, or does this indicate that people are cynical about the law in general?

South Africa has been blessed with fine legal minds. Our judiciary has saved the country from rocky shores many times before. Wherever I travel in the world, speaking to other lawyers, our legal system is respected with the highest regard. Now, again, we see the separation of powers at play. We see our courts as a powerful check on our government.

That said, I have clemency for the current presidency. Although, of course, nothing is beyond critique, we have to acknowledge the grave difficulty of leading in a crisis of this magnitude, in real time – especially in a country like ours, plagued with various legacy ills. It has been no easy task. If we look beyond the irritations of cigarettes and “crop bottoms worn with boots”, the challenges are varied and overwhelming. No one wants to be tasked with balancing economic interest over human life.

From a legal side, we must be thankful that we have the freedom to disagree and bring matters to court. I would think it shows how we use the law in a healthy manner to engage and communicate our will. It shows we have agency, that we still believe in rights, in the rule of law and the future.

Are you willing to share a few of the writing entries with LitNet’s readers?

We have posted the three winners on our website. Please find them here: https://www.lawforall.co.za/art-for-justice/.

The winning entry of the competition is: "When I dream of a future" by Belita Andre

The second prize went to "The image of justice: a double duplex", by Nomyezo Mqhele

Third prize went to "The commute", by Sesetu Holomisa

Belita Andre’s winning piece was very special to us; she recorded herself reading it, and this can be seen here: https://www.lawforall.co.za/poetry/when-i-dream-of-a-future-by-belita-andre/.

I have attached the other seven pieces we really loved as part of the Top 10.

Herewith the names of the Top 10 entries:

  • "Exit" by Maretha Maartens
  • "Green" by Naomi Meyer
  • "Breath of law" by Inga Ntantala
  • "Say something" by Harry Owen
  • "Brave" by Monicca Rampine
  • "When justice meant the world had to stop, so Ayanda could dream" by Sumayya Mohamed
  • "Nqo" by Siyabulela Javu

The three winning entries are published on LAW FOR ALL's website. LAW FOR ALL granted LitNet permission to publish the seven other entries of the Top 10 in the coming seven weeks.  

LAW FOR ALL’s Top 10: "Nqo" by Siyabulela Javu

LAW FOR ALL’s Top 10: "Say something" by Harry Owen

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    Spook Speurder

    Belita Andre’s words form a tower of beauty.
    To find that a prize was given to an entry that holds that damage worth mentioning, or damage per se, was only done to society with the arrival of the Dutch in the 1650’s and sprouting therefrom ever since, is a cutting dissappointment. That that argument should lead to finding for kindness brings relief while no relief is offered to whiteness which is the obvious target here.
    In the law, specifically, where I understand that equality should reign, such racism should not be lauded. If the anti-whiteness movement was started by someone that you admire, that’s your bad for supporting an injustice.

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