Mbekezeli Benjamin, 31, a legal researcher and advocacy officer, is a leading voice on issues relating to the judiciary in South Africa. Through research and analysis over the past three years at the civil society organisation Judges Matter, he has guided the public in understanding how the judiciary functions and how the public can hold judges accountable. His work on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has helped demystify the process of appointing judges. The JSC is set to adopt new criteria based on Mbekezeli’s work. He also worked for leading organisations such as SERI, where his work on the right to housing was recognised in important judgments such as Rula Techno v Mahlangu, where the land claims court reversed an eviction of urban farm workers. He also worked for the Equal Education Law Centre and was instrumental in the Constitutional Court’s AB v Pridwin judgment, which recognised that children in private schools deserve their right to education protected. Mbekezeli led the Equal Education Law Centre’s team in its submissions before the UN treaty body on civil and political rights, which resulted in the UN recognising the right to protest for children in the General Comment to Article 21 of the UN Convention on Civil and Political Rights, a major piece of international law.
- LLB (Wits University)
- Short course certificate in Strategic Litigation from the Law Society of South Africa
- Short course certificate in Media Engagement from the Institute for Advancement of Journalism
In 2019 I was the youngest person to be awarded a residency as the Global Practitioner-in-Residence by the Levin Centre for Public Service and Public Interest Law at Stanford Law School in the United States. I was also awarded a fellowship for young human rights lawyers by the Bertha Justice Initiative (2014-2016), and a civil society leadership fellowship for Organisational Innovation by the DG Murray Trust (2022). I have appeared 3 times before United Nations treaty bodies: firstly, when I contributed an amicus submission in the first case worldwide to come before the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (I.D.G v Spain, 2015), and secondly to submit a statement which led to the UN Committee on Civil and Political Rights recognising “children” as a special category of vulnerable people in the General Comment to Article 27, on the right to protest/ freedom of assembly.
Being a student from a township school in Soweto and going to debate competitions against model C schools in the suburbs opened my eyes to the deep inequality in the education system and society in general. It encouraged me to be a human rights lawyer, using the law to address the inequalities in education and housing, but also represent people in claiming their own constitutional rights through the judiciary and through protest.
Be patient with yourself – hold yourself to high standards but never forget to be kind to yourself when things don’t go your way.
South Africa is at an important crossroads moment right now. I’m hoping in the next 18 months we get renewed commitment from our leaders to deal with our youth unemployment crisis, find new energy generation capacity, deal with corruption and violent crime and restore the rule of law. If we get this right, in the next 5 years South Africa would be stable economically, with a hopeful and vibrant youth, and more safety and less hunger for everyone.