On Saturday 9 March 2019 Sister In Law hosted the first of the I am Lady Justice series workshops at Werksmans Attorneys in Sandton, and the turnout was out of this world. The joy of having 56 phenomenal women in one seminar room was unmatched.
Here is what Letlhogonolo Nthodi had to say about the workshop…
For a long time, the mandate of women empowerment has been ambiguous and conflated. We have identified our problems, but we often want to address all our problems in a single sitting which often renders our conversations and solutions ineffective because there is just so much to deal with. Approaching this International Women’s Day weekend, I was curious to see if our methodology would change. The I Am Lady Justice Workshop provided a break from the norm by actually zeroing in on a particular issue – how a woman’s lived experience would change with knowledge of the law. Mrs Tebello Motshwane, an admitted attorney, hosted a workshop around marriage, divorce, child maintenance and estate planning. The workshop was laced with the aim of intentional women empowerment as she ensured that she had female speakers addressing each segment and female stakeholders involved in the printing of workbooks and providing food and refreshments. The I Am Lady Justice Workshop shifted the narrative of solely having conversations to having conversations followed by practicable and implementable solutions.
For women who are seeking to get married one day, the first topic focused on marriage. This segment covered the importance of differentiating between a civil and a customary marriage. Did you know that one cannot enter into a subsequent marriage after concluding a civil marriage but that a customary marriage opens up the possibility of polygamy if it is the only marital system entered into? There was an in- depth coverage of the two marital property regimes under South African Law, being marriage in community of property and marriage out of community of property with and without the accrual system and the consequences which flow from the chosen regime. This segment stressed that, in the jubilation of marriage, one should not gloss over the magnitude of marriage as an institution which holistically changes one’s status. One has to be informed of the repercussions which flow from the marital regime chosen.
The focus then moved on to divorce. Divorce statistics have become increasingly alarming with Statistics South Africa estimating that four in ten marriages end before they reach their ten year anniversary. The workshop covered the dissolution and asset distribution of the various marital property regimes. Emphasis was placed on ensuring that the correct procedure is followed in informing one’s not so significant other of one’s intention to divorce. That is, to ensure that you receive proof from the sheriff that your intention to divorce was served at the place of residence or work of your (ex) partner to be. This is important as divorce changes your status to “divorced” at Home Affairs, therefore, each step must be followed thoroughly to minimise the distress that the situation already causes.
I do not think that the workshop would have done us much justice if it had not addressed the “dead beat baby daddy epidemic.” The child maintenance segment was particularly interesting as it clarified the many misconceptions which women have regarding the issue, which in turn becomes a deterrent from actually claiming maintenance. Some women are under the impression that maintenance is cast in stone at one thousand five hundred rand towards the contribution of the child’s wellbeing. This could not be more wrong. The enquiry into child maintenance is a thorough investigation to ensure for the best interests of the child. It is dealt with on a case by case basis and it is entirely dependent on the lifestyles of the parents involved as child maintenance is a collaborative effort from both parents. Other ways of claiming maintenance were brought to light such as being able to claim from the closest blood relative of the child’s co-parent if they are unable to fulfil their end of the bargain, however that is subject to their affordability.
The final segment of the workshop focused on wills and estate planning. This segment was particularly empowering as it acknowledged women as owners of assets and bearers of wealth, and as such, we must make provision to safeguard these assets upon our passing. Clear distinctions were made between testate and intestate succession. The requirements of a valid will were stressed on vigorously. Did you know that each page of one’s will must be signed or initialled to ensure for its validity? Amongst other things one’s will may detail who one wants as the guardian of her children and when the children’s inheritance may be bequeathed upon them. Emphasis was placed on the importance of an executor especially if one wishes to leave their home as a family house. A testator can allocate a caretaker who will bear the responsibility of taking care of the affairs of the home and ensuring that the house remains in the family. I found this to be of great significance as the notion of a family house causes a lot of friction particularly in the Black community. Simply leaving one’s house as a family home later becomes prejudicial to some members of the family whereas allocating a caretaker to the home ensures that the house remains an asset in the family.
From the abovementioned, the I Am Lady Justice Workshop was clearly aimed at equipping women with the necessary legal ammunition to ensure that they are informed with the most fundamental legal knowledge to make informed decisions at every turn of their lives. So often women gather and discuss pertinent issues and emerge from seminar rooms with newly found knowledge and formed ideals however, upon departing, nothing really materialises of those. The workshop sought to nullify this “women’s seminar” trajectory by providing us with practicable workbooks detailing everything covered in the workshop. The overarching agenda of the workshop was thus clear: continuity. Continuity of sharing legal knowledge which thus translates into a continuity of empowerment in even the most remote corners of our country where women do not know how to apply for maintenance or how to draft a will.
The I Am Lady Justice series is a movement on the rise. It is being beckoned to life by the need for all women to be empowered. May it reach those women who do not have social media with haste. To those of us who attended the workshop, the mandate of continuity is clear: each one teach one because empowered women empower women.