HEAVY prison sentences and the forfeiting of assets should be the only way to deal with lawyers who steal from their clients using bankruptcy as a justification, says Fidelity Fund senior legal advisor John Ndlovu.
Ndlovu spoke to Sunday Independent amid a rising number of lawyers who are on the Legal Practice Council’s (LPC’s) list of offenders as either suspended or struck off the roll.
Ndlovu, whose company helps clients recover money stolen by lawyers, said it was common that when the lawyers were put on trial, they defended themselves by saying their practices did not generate enough money to pay rent and staff salaries.
“The clients would always come and demand their money even before they (lawyers) are able to repay it, and then it is for that reason that they get exposed.
“The only way to discourage them (the lawyers) from doing that is to take a decisive action by imposing heavy sentences when they are convicted and also attach whatever properties they may be owning,” Ndlovu said.
Writing in derebus.org.za, Ndlovu said the errant lawyers had brought disrepute to the legal profession, which should uphold a high standard of honesty and truthfulness.
“The conduct of these errant practitioners has led to some members of the public believing that lawyers are generally liars and/or thieves. There are, however, very serious consequences for legal practitioners whose conduct is found to have fallen short of the high standard of honesty required by members of the profession,” wrote Ndlovu on October 1 last year.
One such unscrupulous lawyer, advocate Enock Felani Manana, was recently struck from the roll for the theft of a mere R75 000 from a client. He had previously survived an allegation of corruption where he was accused of stealing millions of rand from scores of clients.
Manana, who practised in Newcastle, northern KwaZulu-Natal, has joined LPC’s long list of lawyers who have been disbarred for breaking the law and tainting their profession’s image.
Also recently expelled from practising was advocate Malesela Teffo who represented four out of five accused in the soccer star Senzo Meyiwa’s murder trial.
It was not yet clear whether Limpopo former prosecutors Leonard Makhado Ratshilumela and Guesta Rhulani Maboela have also been expelled from the legal profession after they were sentenced to prison terms for taking bribes in 2022 and 2023 respectively.
The LPC has not responded to an enquiry sent to it.
According to Business Tech, lawyers’ salaries range from R1 200 000 to R1 500 000 a year.
“Those who have the mettle to stick it out and soar up the ranks of top law firms, meanwhile, can end up earning over R5 million a year as a senior partner (over R415 000 a month),” read Business Tech’s story published in February this year.
According to a story published by the ridgetimes.co.za on February 15, 2018, Manana was arrested in his office in Standerton in February 2018 for allegedly swindling R4.2 million from more than 50 clients, but it remains unclear what happened to the case except that Manana was granted bail of R25 000 by the Secunda Magistrate’s Court on February 14, 2018.
Manana, who could not be located for comment, was admitted as a Gauteng Division of the High Court, Pretoria, advocate in 2014 and later moved his practice to Newcastle.
However, in the latest incident, he was accused of refusing to hand over R75 000, which he held as a trust account advocate, to his client “Ms T C Nxumalo”. This led to the LPC successfully applying to the Pietermaritzburg High Court to expel him from practising.
“In my view, the first respondent (Manana) has persistently over the course of the facts being considered demonstrated dishonest conduct, firstly towards his client (Nxumalo) by misappropriating her funds, and secondly towards this court in advancing an amateurishly false version of what became of the balance of the funds,” read Judge Mossop’s judgment.
The court revealed that Nxumalo had approached Manana to help her recover R120 000 from a Newcastle-based firm of attorneys. Nxumalo had handed the fund to the firm as part of the process to buy immovable property, “which transaction ultimately failed and did not proceed”.
Upon being approached by Nxumalo, Manana recovered all the funds but he only handed R45 000 to Nxumalo 45 days later.
The delay to hand over the rest of the fund forced Nxumalo to approach the LPC for help.
In responding to LPC’s letter on October 16, 2020, Manana promised to pay Nxumalo the outstanding funds by November 1, 2020.
“That date came and went and the balance of the funds was not paid to the complainant,” read the judgment.
Then the LPC appointed an investigating committee to look into the matter and the committee found that Manana “had conducted himself in an unprofessional manner” and recommended disciplinary action, which Manana did not attend saying he had “not been given proper notice of the hearing and that he was unable to attend the hearing due to prior work commitments”.
The LPC ruled that he should be suspended pending the application of his expulsion to the High Court.
Meanwhile, Robinson Manzi, who escaped a life sentence for rape because of compelling circumstances such as that there was “no serious physical or psychological damage” suffered by his victim, was granted the right to return to practise in 2019. This was 10 years after he had been released on parole after serving a jail term for raping a 14-year-old daughter of a client.
Manzi is now running a practice, Robinson Manzi & Company Attorneys, in KwaZulu-Natal, which has been featured in former president Jacob Zuma’s legal cases. His name has also been featured in the Digital Vibe scandal involving former Health minister Zweli Mkhize.
When contacted for comment, Manzi requested that questions be sent to him via email, but he has not responded.
When asked about reinstating expelled lawyers, Ndlovu said unfortunately the Legal Practice Act made a provision for such lawyers to apply for readmission.
“They have to comply with the readmission requirement and then the court would look to whether they qualify or not. But the main criteria would be whether they are fit to practice law again and that determination is made by the court looking at the various aspect of the application.
“But that doesn’t mean that once an attorney has been struck off and readmitted then he won’t misconduct himself again because they are some of the attorneys who have been struck off twice or more after they have been readmitted. It is really a difficult situation,” Ndlovu said.