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We Remember Duma Nokwe – Politician, Teacher, Lawyer

First African advocate to be admitted to the Transvaal Supreme Court. Died 12 January 1978

 

  

  

Whilst studying law, Nokwe did not accept the policy nor the decree of the dean of the Faculty of Law that Nokwe and seven other black students could not attend the law dinner because judges, the Attorney-General and the leaders of the legal profession would be embarrassed by their presence. In any event blacks could not attend the function held in a hotel where alcoholic drinks would be served. The dean was forced to change his mind when the Students’ Representative Council threatened to withdraw the subsidy of £100 to pay for the professors and the honoured guests!

 

According to an article published in the SA Bar Journal, “the constitution of the Bar had been amended on the initiative of Oliver Schreiner in the 1930s to allow for non-whites to become members of the Bar. Despite this, a small minority of the Bar opposed Nokwe’s admission. A special general meeting of the Bar was called, at which the minority objected because his occupation of chambers in His Majesty’s Building and his entry into the common room would be unlawful according to the Group Areas Act. Despite this the Bar Council resolved that Nokwe would be welcomed to the Bar and that all facilities would be available to him. Thereafter the minority threatened that should Duma take up his right to use the common room, they would notify the Group Areas inspectors and have him arrested. Nokwe consulted with the leaders of the ANC to determine what stance he should take and he was advised by Walter Sisulu that we cannot jeopardise the opportunity to have the first black member of the Bar for the price of a cup of tea.”

   

    

 

At the Johannesburg Bar where Nokwe was a member, but could not have a cup of tea in the common room, a bust of Nokwe now stands regally and pensively gazing into the distance.
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