Zola Skweyiya

Zola Skweyiya, who dies this week, was a great and versatile legal mind, a selfless-builder of institutions and leaders who never claimed credit for himself.
He was the brain and leader of the ANC constitutional committee which produced policy options that underpin the present-day constitutional dispensation.

He saw himself as a humble servant of the ANC, South Africa and her people.Throughout his life, Skweyiya has always wanted to inculcate revolutionary legal values and teach people to be a selfless and versatile lawyers.

At the height of apartheid, he was among the foremost leaders who believed that the Struggle had reached a turning point and that the ANC needed conscientious lawyers such as Nelson Mandela, OR Tambo and Duma Nokwe.

He also shared law books on Marxist legal theory and said he wanted me and other comrades touse law as a weapon of the Struggle.Skweyiya saw the need to facilitate the formation of structures of progressive lawyers inside the country and orientate them to become service providers of pro bono services to scores of youths charged with a variety of political offences during the 1985 and 1986 state of emergency period.

He was very concerned about the arrest and torture of these youths and the parents who did not know where their children were detained and tortured.

It was through his advice that I sought assistance from Dr Nthato Motlana and Beyers Naudé, then SA Council of Churches general secretary, to establish a legal service centre within the Kara school to train the youth as paralegals who could provide assistance to their peers who were in detention.

He was always ahead of his time. He also wanted to ensure the use of underground networks to involve law students in debates around the Freedom Charter and constitutional policies and principles for a post-apartheid South Africa.

It was he who encouraged me, while I was a senior lecturer in criminal and procedural law at Unisa, to return to Mamelodi township in Tshwane to work among the youth to inculcate revolutionary values and also involve them in community work.

He saw this as a way to ensure that we developed public interest lawyers for a post-apartheid South Africa.It was also through Skweyiya that I and JB Sibanyoni, former MPs and others formed the Democratic Lawyers Congress (DLC).

He masterminded and guided the democratic lawyer congresses that came together to form the national association of democratic lawyers.

In his memory progressive lawyers must rebuild the public interest law movement, community justice institutions and the paralegal movement to ensure the poorest of the poor access justice to the full.

* Motshekga is the chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media. 

Sunday Independent