In the heady struggle days of the mid-1970s, Dr Mubarak Sulaiman was a founding member and first chairperson of the UWC Law Faculty Legal Aid Clinic which at the time consisted of senior law students.
The Legal Aid Clinic, which operated from the premises of the Churches Urban Council located opposite the Hanover Park bus terminus, was an entirely student-run organisation offering a much-needed legal service to the community. Operating with the approval of the Cape Law Society, the clinic could only fully operate based on the premise that there are qualified attorneys in attendance.
Most of UWC Law Faculty staff, as well as the then dean at the time, Professor Bisset Boehmke, attended the official launch of the clinic, noted Dr Sulamain. In his opening address as chairperson of the Legal Aid Clinic, Dr Sulaiman recalls mentioning that he hopes that the establishment of the Legal Aid Clinic will also lead to the inclusion of clinical legal education as part of the Law Curriculum.
Dr Sulaiman shares highlights of his career at UWC that has spanned more than three decades, and also of his involvement as a student in the establishment of a legal aid clinic:
The group of senior law students who worked in the clinic soon realised that most of the legal issues within the community included a social dimension. “So, we recruited social work students to deal with those aspects. The combination of legal and social assistance proved to be highly successful and beneficial to the community,” said Dr Sulaiman.
He recalled that most of the legal problems were related to old hire purchase agreements. But one of the stand out cases for him was when a particular man arrived at the clinic and confessed to having committed a murder. “Needless to say, this caused much consternation in the office, as we never anticipated a confession.” The man was quickly advised to hand himself over to the police, added Dr Sulaiman.
The dream of establishing a law clinic managed by the university was realised in the late 1980s when the faculty established the Legal Aid Clinic which, in 2012, was renamed to the Law Clinic, and Dr Sulaiman is satisfied that legal education, via the accredited UWC Law Clinic has become an integral part of the faculty’s LLB programme.
Many of Dr Sulaiman’s early memories of UWC are of anti-apartheid student protests He recalled the “fiery” mass meetings of the early 1970s and how a group of law students chartered a bus to attend Steve Biko’s funeral in 1977. “I remember the excitement and anxiety on the bus as news reached us of buses from other universities and organisations being turned away by the security forces.”
Dr Sulaiman was among the students who took part in a mass walk-off from campus in 1973. He returned three months later, only to leave campus again in 1976, this time for six months. But still he graduated in 1977 and went on to complete his LLM at the University of Miami as a Fulbright scholar in 1979.
He returned in 1986 to teach at UWC, where he found himself working alongside many of his former lecturers and respected mentors. He was on campus for the establishment of the Community Law Centre, now known as the Dullah Omar Institute, and was proud to be in the presence at the university of struggle stalwarts such as Albie Sachs, Bridgette Mabandla and Kader Asmal.
Dr Sulaiman went on to complete a Doctorandus Iuris degree at the University of Leiden, Netherlands and in 2013, a doctorate in law at UWC. He served as the chairperson of the Law Faculty Alumni Association from 2000 to 2019 and was the chairperson of the Department of Private Law for five years until 2019.
Although he has now retired, Dr Sulaiman is still involved in legal education. He serves as the local director of the Western Cape, Legal Education and Development (LEAD), an initiative of the Law Society of South Africa. ‘The initiative seeks, inter alia, to supplement and complement the practical legal education of candidate attorneys.” Professor Jacques De Ville, Dean of UWC’s Law Faculty, said: “We thank Dr Sulaiman for his significant contribution to the faculty, and wish him well in his retirement.”