About Us

NADEL is an independent and voluntary national unitary organisation of lawyers which is a non-sexist, non-racist and democratic organisation.  It is a professional formation of lawyers and activist lawyers.

Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of the Association shall be:

  1. To uphold and to strive for the fulfilment and attainment of the beliefs and commitments as set out in the preamble of this Constitution.
  2. To develop, promote and sustain a system of law, which shall be fair, just, equitable, accessible to and understood by all.
  3. To strive for the realisation of an egalitarian society.
  4. To support and promote the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the United Nations Declaration of Universal Human Rights and any other such * instruments / documents consistent with the aims and objectives of this Association.
  5. NADEL commits itself to build international relations in the SADC Region, Africa, BRICS, the global south and the world in general, in order to build international relations and develop and grow the organisation. To build strategic relations and international solidarity in the defence of human rights.
  6. To affiliate to any organisation, local or international, having aims and objectives consistent with those of the Association provided that such affiliation shall be first approved by the National Conference or the National Policy Conference, or the National Executive Committee, subject to approval by the National Conferences.
  7. To render, and co-ordinate the rendering of, legal assistance to persons and organisations involved in matters affecting especially human rights.
  8. To assist those who wish to study, research, practice or teach law either through financial grants, law clinics or other institutions.
  9. To promote the study of and research into transformation of the legal profession, including the judiciary, magistracy.
  10. To assist members in matters relating to and arising from their professions. NADEL will take on a union function for its members and together with other structures in the profession act as a watchdog over the profession.
  11. To work to ensure access to the profession for young practitioners, women and disabled practitioners.
  12. To protect the members of the public from any harmful acts, either caused or occasioned by the State power, individuals, corporate bodies or professional bodies.
  13. To fight and resist any forms of corruption either within the State organs, corporate bodies, individuals and/or professional bodies.

Our History

The Setting

In the early 1960s the pervasive call that reverberated throughout the continent was “Africa for the Africans.” In South Africa the call did not go unheeded and subsequently led to a split in the ANC and the formation of the PAC. This was probably the first defining moment in our struggle after 1960.
The banning of the ANC and the PAC closed down the space for political activity inside the country for more than a decade and forced the political struggle to be continued by other means. The first sign of internal political activity was the workers strike in Durban in 1973 and this was followed by the events of 1976. To contain the surge in political activity and probably undermine the justification for the armed struggle, the National Party created the impression of change through a pseudo representative platform, the tri-cameral parliament, which was directed at the Coloured and Indian populations and the creation of homelands for the African majority. The formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983, which included all race groups, put paid to the tri-cameral parliament and the Nationalist strategy of containment and rule by division on ethnic lines. The struggle was once again re-defined between two major protagonists – the Nationalists and their acolytes (tri-cameral parliament and homelands) and the liberation movements (ANC, PAC, Azapo, Unity Movement and the worker and civic organisations aligned to these liberation movements).

The declaration of a State of Emergency in 1985 was the final throw of the dice by the National Party to put an end to political activity by force. But the seeds of renewed resistance that were sown in the early 70s had taken root throughout the country. The fear factor was removed and more space was created inside the country for legal political activity. The ANC and PAC used the opportunity of space to encourage the creation of new organisations – the Mass Democratic Movement and the Pan Africanist Movement respectively. Nationalist rule under a continued State of Emergency could not stem the unstoppable tide.

The third defining moment was a cluster of events – the meeting between Chris Heunis (Nationalist Party minister) and the ANC, the Canon Collins Memorial Lecture by ANC leader, Oliver Tambo, in London in 1986 and the Children’s Conference in Harare in 1987. At these meetings and the subsequent constitutional proposals that were put out in 1988, the ANC gave a strong signal of its preference for a negotiated settlement. The Southern African leaders were also very persuasive in unifying the position of both the ANC and PAC towards a negotiated settlement in South Africa, more especially in light of external international political developments.
NADEL was born and operated in this environment.

Formation of NADEL

Liberation movements used political trials as a means to advance the objectives and legitimacy of the struggle. At an operational level, the legal platform gave a measure of reassurance to activists in the country and cadres from outside that they would always be able to call on lawyers when the need arose.
In 1985 the Mass Democratic Movement decided to organise the legal fraternity to meet these two main objectives – protection and publicity. Towards the end of 1986 a third objective was added- organisation of the legal fraternity in preparation for a new order.
In practically every sphere of civic activity, political alignment and allegiance were the operative factors and turf battles among the liberation movements surfaced from time to time. This was evident in sport, culture and the labour movement. Any effort to organise the legal fraternity was not expected to be any different.
At the time of the formation of NADEL there were two lawyers organisations already in existence – Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) and the Black Lawyers Association (BLA). They operated in two different constituencies and with fundamentally different objectives. The LHR substantially challenged the deprivation of the freedom of movement. A substantial part of their work was the defence of people charged under the Group Areas Act and for Pass Law offences. LHR also became the defender of challenges brought to the fore by the Black Sash Movement. In the main the LHR operated within the existing legal framework. It was a body of mainly White lawyers who were willing to offer free legal service to people and organisations whose freedom of movement was curtailed. The BLA, on the other hand, focused on ways and means of challenging and changing the system. In the various projects of the BLA the central objective was to fight for the restoration of human dignity to the Black man. In the legal fraternity itself the lack of mutual respect between Black and White colleagues was evident.
A group of individual lawyers aligned to the Mass Democratic Movement formed a Steering Committee under the acronym SAADEL (South African Association of Democratic Lawyers). Members of the Steering Committee included the late Dullah Omar, Pius Langa, Mathole Motshekga, Mahmood Kajee, Ismail Ayob, Krish Govender, Silas Nkanunu and Krish Naidoo.
At the inaugural meeting of SAADEL in Durban in 1986 the only order of business was the need to form another lawyers’ organisation. After a weekend of deliberations it was decided that the SAADEL Steering Committee would work as a pressure group and engage both the LHR and BLA with a view to forming a single strong lawyers’ organisation.

At the inaugural meeting in Durban in 1987 the name of the organisation was changed to National Association of Democratic Lawyers and the acronym NADEL was adopted. Dumisa Ntsebeza was elected the first President of NADEL.

Functioning of NADEL in the Early Years

At the BGM in Cape Town in 1989 the house was once again divided on ideological lines. This time however, the lawyers aligned to the MDM had come in force and there were several members from LHR present. At the outset, two key amendments were effected to the constitution – those present would be eligible to vote and, second, voting would take place by a show of hands.
As expected the MDM aligned members won the day and filled all positions on the NEC. Prior to Pius Langa was elected President with Dullah Omar as his deputy.  The BLA left NADEL at this point.
At that stage NADEL became aware of the initiatives to release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners. Consequently NADEL threw its weight being the initiative for the release of political prisoners and used its platform to pronounce on a variety of issues and challenges facing the liberation movements at the time. Anything that could advance the liberation struggle fell within the purview of NADEL and it seems that this tradition has remained with the organisation.

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