Recent law graduate Thato Mokhethi enrolled in 2014, determined to become the first graduate in his family and escape the life of poverty he and his siblings and their single mother had endured in Brakpan, near Johannesburg.
After matriculating quite well in 2013, he was accepted at four institutions but chose UWC after reading about the number of UWC alumni in government and the roles that members of the Law Faculty had played in South Africa’s first democratic Constitution.
Although he initially registered for a BA degree with a focus on social development, Thato switched to Law in his second year. He says tax law lecturer Dr Fareed Moosa made the biggest impression on him.
“He has a formidable legal and somewhat judicial instinct. His passion for the law is unquestionable, much like his intellectual prowess,” says Thato.
Thato’s BA studies were funded by a combination of NSFAS funding and campus jobs and he received a bursary during the LLB from the Attorneys Fidelity Fund (now known as the Legal Practice Council Fidelity Fund).
“I also worked for the Centre for Student Support Services as a peer-mentor in 2015–2016,” says Thato, who still found time to volunteer at two organisations, chair the Gorvalla residence committee in 2015, and participate in the 2016 and 2017 Alumni Phonathons.
Recalling the first phonathon in 2017, Thato says, “It was a fascinating encounter for the reason that it embossed a sense of pride in us when we learned how indebted some alumni felt towards the University. Some mentioned that no other university would have admitted them in South Africa at the time.”
Since the students had no call centre experience, the Alumni Office included various scenarios in their training, such as explaining why the Phonathon was chosen as a fundraising mechanism or how donations pledged would be administered. But, says Thato, some conversations could not be adequately prepared for, such as “the manner in which to sympathise with a family that informs us over the phone that the person we are trying to reach has passed on”.
The phonathons were part of the Access to Success fundraising campaign, a direct response to the #FeesMustFall campaigns of 2016 and 2017. As an undergraduate in these turbulent years, Thato says that, although tragic in some aspects, there were also “noble responses like the phonathon” which made these years the highlights of his time as a student.
Thato is a candidate attorney at a boutique law firm in Centurion which focusses predominantly on corporate and commercial law. He is quite happy with his progress there.
“It is quite a fast-paced environment and it gives one a strong sense of achievement when, as a member of the team, you execute your part well.”
Somewhat unusually, he registered to do his LLM soon after graduating with his LLB in April 2019.
“I chose to do my LLM as I foresee practising becoming more demanding over the years. I thought it would be prudent to enrol while I am not yet practising for my own account,” says Thato, who intends doing his pupillage and becoming an advocate in the near future. With a strong interest in human rights law, his ultimate ambition is to be appointed to the Bench.