Three Zimbabweans who studied law and obtained law degrees in South Africa are challenging a rule that prevents them from professionally practising law in that country.

Bruce Chakanyuka, Nyasha James Nyamugure and Dennis Tatenda Chadya launched a constitutional challenge of the Legal Practice Act (LPA), the law that says only permanent residents and citizens may be admitted to the legal profession. The three Zimbabwean-born law graduates are being assisted by the Asylum Seeker Refugee and Migrant Coalition in the constitutional challenge.

South Africa’s Legal Practice Council (LPC) and the Minister of Justice are opposing the court bid by the three Zimbabweans.

According to GroundUp, the Legal Practice Act provides only for the enrolment and admission of attorneys and advocates who are either citizens or have permanent residence permits.

The three Zimbabweans all have permits that allow them to live, study and work in South Africa and have also completed their degrees, written board exams and done articles and pupilage.

The South African Government argues the legal profession is not a rare or critical skill and that many South Africans struggle to get work

The trio has also received support from three other organisations, namely the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town, the Pan African Bar Association and the International Commission of Jurists. They have asked to be admitted as amicus curiae (friends of the court).

Scalabrini, which promotes and protects the rights of asylum seekers and refugees, said that the Legal Practice Council’s stance is “premised on the most vulgar of stereotypes and are simply xenophobic”.

In opposing documents, LPC chairperson Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu stated that it does not believe the relevant section of the Act is unconstitutional. She said:

Opening the floodgates of persons who wish to practise as attorneys or advocates may lead to abuse, particularly by those who will suddenly be entitled to practise in South Africa by simply obtaining a work permit … this will prejudice legal practitioners who have been admitted to practice.

Meanwhile, Nasreen Rajab-Budlender, the national chairperson of the Pan African Bar Association, has likened the exclusion of non-South African citizens from the legal profession to apartheid policies.

The matter is pending before the Pretoria High Court.