The Legal Aid office building in Joburg. 
File photo: Nokuthula Mbatha African News Agency (ANA).
Lawyers working at Legal Aid SA offices in central Joburg say being at work poses a threat to their well-being because they fear being attacked by disgruntled clients who have lost their cases.

They said they have complained that they have no security on their premises, and that some of their colleagues have come under attack in their offices.

This week Sunday Independent visited one of the offices in Fox Street, Johannesburg, and found no security guards to take details of the visitors. 

Visitors were not searched at the entrance before making their way through to the reception. 

The building also accommodated companies such as Harambee, a government agency which focuses on helping youth to access job opportunities.

But Deresh Moodley, an agent at Summit Management which owns the building, said companies which have a public interface such as Legal Aid and Harambee, should arrange their own security personnel at their entrance.

“This is a public interface facility and does not have access to the rest of the building. Any security for such a facility is for the tenant to arrange, should it require this. This is no different to any other retail type or public interface premises,” said Moodley.

“The building itself has several security guards on site and no access to the non-public areas is permitted without first clearing security at the main entrance.”

On Wednesday, lawyers across the country submitted their memorandum to the national office in Braamfontein during the protest against bad working conditions and lack of security at work, including changes to their group life cover policy.

Reading the memorandum in front of the national Legal Aid officials, an employee, Andile Mavatha, said many of the local offices had no security personnel, adding that this exposed employees to every risk in their offices.

“Some clients visit our local offices in possession of weapons such as firearms and so forth. There have been incidents where employees were exposed to physical and verbal abuse at their respective local offices,” said Mavatha.

Mavatha claimed national officials were aware of the danger they were facing, but did nothing to mitigate it.

“What we found strange and disturbing is that the employer has employed security personnel at the national office and provincial offices. When we asked the employer to employ security personnel for local offices like national and provincial offices, we were promised panic buttons. We found this insulting and a total disregard of our security by the employer,” he said.

Lumka Qoqo has fallen victim to this state of affairs. She was attacked by the family of a client, after losing a case.

“I’ve had a situation where a person from a Zimbabwean family came and demanded to know what happened to his brother’s case after he lost an appeal to a sentence. So it’s easy for them to gain access to the office. And I asked myself: what if he had a gun?” said Qoqo.

Michael Motaung, the workers’ spokesperson, said the national officials were given 14 days to respond to their grievances.

“And some cases were not reported. At the national office, there are securities and they are not handling clients. Is there a need for them to have security personnel, while at the local offices, anyone can come pretending to look for assistance, but end up attacking our staff?” said Motuang.

Media and marketing manager for the Legal Aid SA national office Godfrey Matsobe said: “The safety and security of our employees at our local offices is paramount and, over and above providing regular oversight and monitoring, Legal Aid SA undertakes to urgently investigate offices that are most vulnerable and implement corrective measures to improve security, albeit without making them fortresses that would be inaccessible to the public.”

Sunday Independent