South African Based Zimbabwean Lecturer Sues Two Law Firms For Unfair Treatment

Former University of Johannesburg (UJ) lecturer Lyness Matizirofa has launched a complaint against global law firm, Eversheds Sutherland and Group One Advocates, for unfair treatment and acts of intimidation in her case against the university at the Legal Practice Council (LPC).

Matizirofa also accused the law firms of denying her and her legal team a right to access the court in the matter.

Eversheds Sutherland and Group One Advocates represent UJ in the case against Matizirofa.

In the complaint, Eversheds Sutherland and its four employees were cited as respondents. Two employees from Group One Advocates were also cited as respondents.

Matizirofa, who was a lecturer in the UJ statistics department, was fired for poor performance and gross dishonesty in February 2020. However, she said these were trumped-up charges.

Matizirofa, who originates from Zimbabwe, alleged her dismissal was based on xenophobia and the fact that she had a disability. She has been fighting her dismissal at the courts without success.

This, according to Matizirofa, is because she has been discriminated against based on her disability and the colour of her skin.

She said the law firms also used strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP) to muzzle her and her legal team at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), high courts, and the labour court.

Matizirofa said this conduct infringed and denied her the right to access the court, which according to her, was illegal and unconstitutional.

She said the law firms also failed to disclose that UJ’s former Professor Tshilidzi Marwala and South Gauteng High Court Judge Phanuel Mudau are related. This was after Mudau ruled in favour of the UJ in August when Matizirofa challenged her dismissal in the South Gauteng High Court.

She said the Marwala and Mudau were also close friends.

“The adjudication of any complaints initiated by Prof Marwala and presided over by a family relative/friend who is a judge such as Honourable Mr Justice Mudau J over the matter in which his relative, friend and acquaintance Prof Marwala is involved is an affront to section 165(2) of the Constitution which prescribes that the courts are independent and subject only to the Constitution and the law, which they must apply impartially and without fear, favour and prejudice, and the seven were aware of such a relationship,” she said.

Matizirofa said that despite such knowledge they decided that the matter should proceed before Mudau.

She added that Mudau broke his oath of office in terms of section 174(8) of the Constitution when presiding over the matter of UJ and Marwala.

Matizirofa said Mudau presided in a biased and unlawful manner over the matter, which denied her and her legal team the right to access court in terms of section 34. She said this was in violation of section 165 of the Constitution.

“The present complaints arise in the context of debates about whether the seven as the legal team of UJ and Prof Marwala have complied with their legal duties as legal practitioners within parameters of the LPA and its rules and regulations which provide guardrails for the legal professions.

“The seven are obliged to have fidelity to the Constitution, the LPA and its regulatory rules that self-evidently govern legal practitioners and how they conduct themselves before they owe loyalty to UJ and Prof Marwala,” she said.

Matizirofa further said: “The misconduct proceedings by the LPC are perfectly permissible to oust delinquent and improper conduct of any legal practitioner – to use the same rules and regulations however for the ulterior motive to harass me and my legal team (Messrs Eldridge Motlatjo Machaba and Advocate MacGregor Kufa) is entirely unprecedented and makes a mockery of the LPC rules and procedures.”

Asked to confirm the case, LPC spokesperson Kabelo Letebele said he would check with their Gauteng provincial office and revert as soon as possible. However, he has not reverted yet.

Eversheds co-managing partner Sandro Milo said they were unable to provide all of the details of and concerning the complaint laid against Eversheds Sutherland to the LPC, and their response thereto.

Milo said this was because the complaint was currently pending before the LPC and was, therefore sub judice.

“Furthermore, it seems to us that Ms Matizirofa’s complaint laid against Eversheds Sutherland is an act of retaliation and is purely vexatious. We say so because:

On 15 September 2022, we, on behalf of our client, the University of Johannesburg, laid a complaint against Ms Matizirofa’s attorney and advocate who represent her in the aforementioned litigious matters. We cannot provide you with the details of our complaint as it is sub judice.

On 13 July 2023, last week Thursday, we received a ruling from the CCMA pertaining to an application for the discovery of documents in that forum, which ruling was in the University of Johannesburg’s favour and against Ms Matizirofa.

“The very next day, on 14 July 2023, Ms Matizirofa lodged her complaint against Eversheds Sutherland with the Legal Practice Council.

“Therefore, one can only surmise that her complaint was lodged because she is disgruntled by the fact that we on behalf of our client lodged a complaint against her appointed legal practitioners and/or that we received a CCMA ruling in our client’s favour, to her perceived detriment.

“We, of course, deny that there is merit to Ms Matizirofa’s complaint and, indeed, that there is a story worth publishing in the Sunday Independent newspaper. Our rights, and those of our clients in respect of the litigious matters against Ms Matizirofa, are strictly reserved,” said Milo.

Questions were also sent to Group One Advocates and they did not respond.

Deputy Judge President of the Gauteng Division, Judge Roland Sutherland earlier told the Sunday Independent that the allegations against Mudau were frivolous and lacked substance.



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