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LIBERTY THROUGH LAW

She quit her job in commercial law to start a mobile legal clinic for disadvantaged women. We chat to Sam Ngcolomba about her challenges, achievements and goals BY SALOME TSOKA & AYANDA SITOLE PICTURES: LUBA LESOLLE

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OUTH AFRICA has one of the most renowned legal systems in Africa, but many people barely know their rights and responsibilities, nor do they have the financial resources to access the legal channels that can help them. That’s where Lady Liberty comes in. Sam Ngcolomba (33) saw the gap in the industry and decided to do something about it. She started Lady Liberty, a nonprofit company that provides access to basic legal information and services to women between the ages of 16 and 59 who cannot afford to pay legal fees. She operates a mobile legal clinic which services various communities, teaching women about their rights while providing them with support to deal with cases pertaining to divorce, marriage, maintenance, wills, domestic violence and sexual assault. “I have a fervent passion for the overall well­being of women and a genuine con­ cern for justice and peace for all people,” she says. “But the reality is that a huge gap exists between our amazing Constitution, that we all speak so highly of, and actual

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access to justice, especially for the poor. “This gap is predominantly created by the financial inability to afford legal assistance, and a lack of basic under­ standing of rights and responsibilities, thus marginalising women who already live in poverty and [suffer] abuse.” Sam started Lady Liberty in 2014 and has helped about 1 400 women thus far. Starting her company cost her between R15 000 and R20 000, she says. She was part of the Vodacom Found­ation’s Change the World programme, which provided her with the platform to launch the idea. A year later, in 2015, the SAB Foundation shortlisted Lady Liberty as a nominee for the Social Innovation Award and provided her with a seed grant. She also received a seed grant from the Pollination Project in New York and Spark International. In the same year, the Singapore Comm­ ittee for UN Women, in partnership with the MasterCard Foundation, nominated Sam for Project Inspire and this year she’s been nominated for the L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth. These are prestigious global competitions which select social impact efforts and give them the chance to pitch and win money for their work.


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er vision is to expand her services beyond Gauteng to the rest of the country, and she’s designed an app to do so. The app aims to reach more women and will be translated into other official languages for the benefit of those who do not understand English. It will also have an audio option for the blind and illiterate. “The app will have legal information that will assist the ladies with various iss­ ues, such as drafting a will, applying for a protection order, registering for a custom­ary marriage, the differences between civil matrimonial regimes and how to deal with MAIN PICTURE: the process of divorce,” she Sam Ngcolomba says. founded Lady Before qualifying as a lawyer, Liberty mobile Sam work­ed as a paralegal at legal clinic, high-profile Bowman which offers free services to Gilfillan (now Bowmans) in disadvantaged Cape Town, but she left the women. RIGHT: firm to start Lady Liberty. Sam works with She now works with various two interns, companies’ corp­orate so­cial Le­rato Lumkinvestment portfolios, and wana and Ayanproposes cases from her da Molefe. “She’s organis­ation to law firms for a boss, a peer pro bono work. and a mentor,” says Lerato. She admits that it’s been a challenge to get law firms to take up cases because free legal work is generally neglected in SA. Her current partners are AM says her husband, Bukhosi the SAB Foundation, law firm Nor­ton Ngcolomba (33), her father, Rose Fulbright and Red Bull Ama­phiko. Mloyiswa Mkandhla (56), and “I once wore a nice big coat and had a mother, Novuyo (56), are her briefcase, and it felt nice for some time,” mentors and supporters withshe says. “But I think we [lawyers] are too out whom she wouldn’t have removed from reality and from the achieved what she has today. realities that people go through day to “From my father I learnt that hard but day. It’s a bit of a superficial world, I strategic work yields results,” she says. believe.” “From my mother I learnt to care for Sam’s two interns share the load of those around me, and from my husband helping underprivileged women. Ayanda I learnt self-belief.” Molefe (24) and Lerato Lum­kwana (23), But Sam admits her company still faces are both aspiring lawyers. challenges, and getting funding is her “She’s amazing; she’s a boss, a peer and main concern. Another uphill battle is a mentor,” says Le­rato “She’s kind to the having a sufficient and consistent panel people she helps and is ambitious.” of lawyers who can help with cases. Ayanda says she loves being an intern “Our best solution at present is focusing at Lady Liberty be­cause the job is so on generating greater revenue or securing rewarding. “I love seeing people smiling capital investment so we can set up our when you help them and I enjoy giving own panel of lawyers who can assist us,” back to the community. Sam knows how she says. to empathise with people and she always Sam would like to establish a call centre goes the extra mile.” to reach women across the country, set

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up a mobile van and run roadshows. She also plans to reach into other African countries. In the future, there’s no telling how many women in need Lady of Liberty will help. S ayanda.sitole@drum.co.za Twitter: @sitole

TIPS ON HOW TO START YOUR OWN MOBILE LAW CLINIC 1. Become a qualified lawyer in the field that you are going to work in on the ground. 2. Do your research ‒ you need to fully understand the needs of the community you plan to serve. 3. You also need to understand their problems, and create solutions to solve them. 4. Work with existing organisations on the ground, because it’s easier to access the community through people that they know and trust. 5. Be willing to adapt to change.

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