President Zuma has directed Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha to look into the challenges raised by the BLA. Picture: Bongani Shilubane/ANA Pictures

Pretoria - President Jacob Zuma on Friday directed Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha to attend to the concerns raised by members of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA), who protested earlier in the day at the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

“We take the concerns raised by the Black Lawyers Association very seriously and we genuinely understand their concerns. In this regard, I have directed the Minister of Justice and Correctional Service [Masutha] to look into the challenges raised by the association and give me a report," Zuma said in a statement released by the Presidency.

"We also encourage all arms of state and all spheres of government to prioritise and empower black lawyers, particularly women."

Zuma said the legal fraternity was one of the key sectors that his government was targeting as part of its radical socioeconomic transformation programme "in order to correct the uneven and unequal racial and gender representation in key sectors of our society and in the economy".

Earlier on Friday, BLA urged Zuma to urgently set up a commission of inquiry to establish why they are sidelined on the lucrative South African government’s numerous court cases, which they say are specifically given to white attorneys and law firms.

“We demand the following…that the president [Zuma] establishes a judicial commission of inquiry on the root cause of why state departments, state-owned enterprises and municipalities continue to appoint white male legal practitioners above their black and women counterparts, notwithstanding the presence of legal framework which requires them to prefer women and black legal practitioners,” BLA president Lutendo Sigogo said during the protest in Pretoria.

“The president should facilitate coordination of distribution of state legal work through one central office, preferably the solicitor-general, which will record and keep statistics of all the issued instructions or briefs. Such statistics will record the type of work, value of the instruction or brief, gender and race of the recipient,” Sigogo said while reading out their demands in the memorandum.

The BLA also demanded that it be provided with a list of all panel attorneys which have been, and will be given work by the state and its agencies, and municipalities across the country. It also demanded the full information of these briefed attorneys, their names, gender, race, and fees they have been paid

Sigogo said there were statistics which proved that “white legal professionals” continued to get the lion’s share of legal briefs from the South African government.

“Even if you are briefed with them, they still receive more money than black lawyers and women lawyers. We need that to be done away with,” said Sigogo.

He said the protest was directed at Zuma as the head of State because the State was the biggest consumer of legal services in the country.