A Muslim Views writer, whose series of articles on Muslim marriages appeared in the newspaper for over a year, has won a prestigious award.
Advocate Fatima Essop’s fourth article in the series was titled ‘Dissolution of a Muslim marriage by death’, and appeared in the June 2018 edition of Muslim Views.
The article was recognised by the Yunus Mahomed Public Interest (YPMI) Award Committee as ‘an organising and mobilising tool for community activists.
‘Free of legalese, it communicates the rights of Muslim widows to inherit clearly and usefully.’
In its citation, the committee also recognised the fact that the article had appeared in ‘a newspaper with national circulation’ which serves to widen the audience of the public interest article.
Regarding the significance of the award, the committee points out: ‘It is to encourage you to use your talents, as Yunus Mahomed did, to promote human rights, combat poverty and discrimination, practise law to advance the public interest, transparency and accountability, all with the aim of cultivating a constitutional consciousness.’
The writing prize was awarded to Advocate Essop as a contributor from the University of Cape Town, where she is pursuing her doctoral studies.
Acknowledging the award, Advocate Essop said in a statement to Muslim Views that she had studied law in the hope of using it as an instrument of social justice to promote human rights and to advance public interest.
‘I am grateful that the YPMI Award Committee has recognised my attempts at making the law more accessible to the public,’ she said. ‘As a lawyer, Yunus Mahomed, committed his talents to promoting human rights as well as combatting poverty and discrimination.
‘Alhamdulillah, I therefore feel honoured and humbled that I have been granted this award.’
Advocate Essop added that when she approached Muslim Views to publish her family law column it was her intention ‘to make this area of law accessible and understandable not only to lay people but also lawyers who did not fully comprehend the consequences of Muslim marriages in the South African legal context’.
Over the period of the series of 14 articles on Muslim marriages, Muslim Views received regular enquiries from readers who wished to engage Advocate Essop further on a particular issue.
According the editor, Farid Sayed, ‘the series probably solicited the most requests from readers for further engagement with a writer’.
The YMPI Award, established in 2013, was proposed by KwaZulu-Natal High Court Judge, Dhaya Pillay, at an annual memorial lecture in honour of lawyers Victoria and Griffiths Mxenge, who were both assassinated by the apartheid regime and had worked closely with Mahomed.
Yunus Ismail Mahomed, ‘YM’ or ‘Styles’ as his comrades, friends and colleagues fondly called him, was a lawyer, anti-apartheid cadre, development activist and business leader.
He was born on December 30, 1950, and graduated from the University of South Africa. He served his articles and set up his law practice in Durban.
As a lawyer, Mahomed committed his talents to promoting human rights, combatting poverty and discrimination.
Together with other activists, he organised and mobilised communities to protest against these injustices, which provided significant opportunities for public interest litigation.
They launched legal challenges against Group Areas segregation, discriminatory systems of levying property rates, and politically repressive arrests, detentions and convictions.
Public interest litigation was not viewed as an end in itself but rather formed part of the broader movement to achieve democracy.
In 1985, at the height of apartheid repression, Mahomed worked alongside Reverend Beyers Naude, Archbishop Tutu and Max Coleman to establish the Kagiso Trust (KT). KT is a development trust for promoting social and economic upliftment.
Initially, it used funds channelled from the European Union to support victims of apartheid.
Efficient investment of donor funds in development enabled KT to grow as a social development agency that supported hundreds of self-sufficient NGOs across the country.
As democracy dawned, Yunus’s sound strategic vision led to the formation of KT’s investment arm, Kagiso Trust Investments (KTI).
At the time of his death, on January 6, 2008, Mahomed was chairperson of KT, deputy chairperson of KTI and served on the boards of several companies.
The establishment of the award, according to the committee, was aimed at continuing the public interest goals of Mahomed in a post-apartheid era.
‘Public interest litigation remains relevant in order to facilitate access to justice, to basic goods and services, and to the defence of fundamental rights in order to animate the rights enshrined in our Bill of Rights,’ according to a statement by the YMPI Award Committee.
‘It provides an avenue for constructive engagement between the providers of goods and services, usually an organ of state, and affected communities, usually poor and marginalised groups.
‘Without public interest litigation, the aspirational objectives of our Constitution may not materialise.
‘Moreover, conducting research and publishing articles that promote human rights, ethical conduct and legal activism contribute to the ongoing discourse on transformation and development of our society.’
The purpose of the Yunus Mahomed Public Interest Award, therefore, is to encourage and reward law students’ engagement in Public Interest Law and Business Ethics through offering writing prizes at each participating university, as well as an annual national prize.
In the citation to Advocate Essop, the award committee stated why she had been declared a recipient: ‘Yunus recognised the empowering value of communicating without legalese.
Hence this award also promotes clear, coherent, concise and precise writing.’
- This article was first published in the June 19, 2020 print edition of Muslim Views.