Pro Bono in South Africa

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


Global Pro Bono: Causes, Context, and Contestation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p.535–569 (2022)





Law / Ethics & Professional Responsibility, Law / General, Law / International


<p>This chapter explores issues related to the state of pro bono legal services and access to justice in South Africa. As is made clear in this book, what is referred to as &ldquo;pro bono&rdquo; comes from the Latin pro bono publico, meaning &ldquo;for the public good.&rdquo; It describes legal work undertaken by legal practitioners without remuneration or at significantly below-market rates as a public service for individuals or organizations who cannot afford to pay. In the South African context, the concept of pro bono must be understood alongside specific constitutional provisions as well as against the structure of the legal profession. In our view, increasing access to justice for the poor, marginalized, and indigent individuals and communities should be seen by members of the South African legal community as an essential component to fulfilling not only their civic duty but also their constitutional obligations. Our understanding of pro bono includes aspirations of access to justice with the legal profession playing a part in its realization. This can only be made real for all people living in South Africa if they have access to legal representation, and much of the private legal profession understands and acknowledges that it has an obligation in this regard. Pro bono practice is therefore a necessary institution for addressing access to justice. It is not, however, sufficient. Pro bono practice must be augmented by the work of paralegals and extended to the particular South African vision of community service, which itself does aspire to implement and achieve access to justice.</p>

Law and Personhood

The assembling of a new set of South African and global citizenships has taken on new urgency and a new plurality twenty years after the supposed advent of freedom. Categories make persons and persons make categories, as Jones and Dlamini have recently pointed out. In the South African constitutional text – where the phrase ‘categories of persons’ is written – race is but one of sixteen categories on the formal list. The Constitutional Court has added more.  Indeed, the effort of desegregating publics now takes place without the freshness of new symbols and with potentially stale institutions. In the public sphere, some responses to this era of citizenship reformation harken back to earlier times – either to times of forward-thinking, to times of social-making, or even to times of separating. Other responses rest in a consumptive present or appear as mere promised rhetorical bridges into the future. In this project WISER will examine the new questions that scholars in law, society and the humanities are posing themselves and others. What are the complex fashions in which bounded enclaves and social categories are fraying and unravelling or reforming? How, if at all, are persons remaking themselves as citizens? At the same time that these questions pose themselves, new fields of play are emerging with the changing audiences of the fashion shops and the sports terrains as well as the changing forms and formats of affluence and the new middle class. The very concept of a person as well as their categorical boundaries may shift with the movement of blood, organs, and self-awareness.