Elistia was the youngest of five children of working-class parents from Montagu. Unable to afford the local Model C high school, Elistia’s parents enrolled her at Ashton Secondary. In 2000, members of the UWC Law Faculty visited the school and inspired her to want to be a lawyer.
After she matriculated in 2002, Elistia worked for a year to save money towards studying at UWC. She was able to complete her studies with funding assistance from NSFAS, part-time jobs and student employment on campus. She worked as a student assistant at the Office for Students with Disabilities, where she transcribed academic materials and textbooks into large fonts for visually impaired and braille for blind students and also assisted students with physical disabilities to access the library.
She says delays in NSFAS funding “put so much pressure on us and our families coming from compromised backgrounds. We struggled with a lack of food and study material which made studying difficult at times.”
As if frequent financial pressures were not enough, she had academic difficulties with the language of instruction as she didn’t speak English well.
Elistia says, “There were many other students. Unfortunately, at the time the university did not have any facilities that I knew of to assist us. We were left to sit with dictionaries while studying in order to cope.”
Although the Law Faculty did not assist them, she appreciated the interest Dr Isak Fredericks took in them. She says, “He showed understanding of our circumstances and our language barriers, especially those coming from an Afrikaans background.”
Despite the challenges, as a person from a small rural community, Elistia says she enjoyed “meeting people from different backgrounds and learning other cultures, which opened my mind to the world and broadened my way of thinking.”
After graduating, she was accepted by Ponoane Attorneys in Bloemfontein to do her articles. She completed both the six-month training course of the School for Legal Practice and her articles in 2013 and was then admitted as an attorney.
Elistia met her partner Justin Pillay at UWC where he was completing his LLM and later joined him in Kimberley where he practices. She opened her own practice in Kimberley in March this year where she deals mostly with family law matters and estates. Elistia says that besides growing her business, she would like to act as a magistrate to gain more experience as a presiding officer.
Elistia says, “I’ve been a presiding member at the Consumer Court in the Northern Cape since 2015. I took the part-time position partly so that I could save money to open my own practice, which had always been my dream.
“I’m super excited for the next 10 years,” she says. “I hope later to offer opportunities to young graduates to article in my firm since I struggled so hard just to get into this profession. I want to try and get other alumni to assist in making this dream a reality.”