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GCB head's ‘time for war’ comment raises heat

Publish date: 09 July 2018
Issue Number: 781
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Category: South Africa

The General Council of the Bar (GCB) has distanced itself from comments made on Twitter by its chair Vuyani Ngalwana SC, suggesting it was ‘time for war’ because reconciliation had failed. While Ngalwana has since defended his tweets and said he was not inciting anyone, the Johannesburg Society of Advocates' (JSA) professional and fees committee said it would investigate whether the tweet fell within its mandate. Ngalwana, a member of the JSA, heads up the GCB, notes News24. His deputy, Craig Watt-Pringle SC, said that he had not yet been able to get a response from Ngalwana or the rest of the executive committee and did not know what the context of his tweets were. However, the body distanced itself from his views. He pointed out that ‘prior to becoming chairman of the GCB, Ngalwana SC was a frequent political commentator on Twitter in his personal capacity. The view referred to in the tweet ... was made in his personal capacity, (and) was not cleared with the GCB and does not reflect the views of the GCB’. Ngalwana, who is out of the country, reportedly told News24 he was not inciting anyone to commit violence with his use of the word ‘war’. ‘I’m expressing the view that reconciliation at the expense of true economic transformation has failed – hopelessly,’ he said, adding his comments could be contextualised by referring to the numerous articles he had written over the years about a lack of transformation at the Bar.

Ngalwana's point on transformation is backed up in an article he wrote for the Advocate, the official journal of the GCB in which he plotted a timeline of transformation steps by the Bar. ‘The idea is to leave it to members to make up their own minds, based on cold facts, about how we have fared over these past 25 years,’ he wrote. ‘My view is that on transformation, the Bar has proven itself adept at holding meetings and symposia, taking resolutions, establishing committees and making platitudinous statements such as acknowledging and recognising the slow progress in transformation, but doing nothing of substance to move apace on it. I have come to recognise these for what they are: stalling tactics.’ The News24 report notes the Twitter issue at hand kicked off when Ngalwana stated last week: ‘I think (nay, I KNOW) that black professionals in ALL professions must now kick arse. Enough of this politeness bullshit. We're being abused and patronised. Let's hit back. Strongly. I’ll start. Watch the next couple of weeks. Politeness can sod off now. Gloves are off.’ The spirit of Nelson Mandela was invoked less than an hour later when another Twitter user questioned Ngalwana's approach. User @bevthrills said: ‘#NelsonMandela was always polite ... he emphasised politeness as a way of countering those who patronised him, take a leaf out of his book and rethink your approach.’ Ngalwana replied to her: ‘That's why we're in this mess. Politeness. You're talking to the wrong black man. Reconciliation is not my thing. That failed. Now it's time for war.’ EFF leader Julius Malema retweeted this. JSA chair Ian Green reportedly told News24 that the committee was considering whether the tweet fell within its jurisdiction, and if so ‘whether it is a matter that requires further attention’.

Full News24 report

Advocate article