Lawyers for child victims of rogue attorney take on Legal Practice Council

Court tells Council to finalise investigation into alleged R348-million plunder of trust funds by disgraced attorney Zuko Nonxuba

By Tania Broughton

14 February 2024

Photo of a gavel

A team of lawyers has secured a court order to put pressure on the Legal Practice Council to take swift action to assist child victims of trust fund looting. Photo: Brian Turner via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A team of lawyers acting for victims of disgraced attorney Zuko Nonxuba have secured a court order giving the Legal Practice Council (LPC) strict timelines to complete its investigations into the alleged R348-million plunder of his trust funds, and to pay out any proven claims.

Among the victims are dozens of children with cerebral palsy whose parents and guardians, through Nonxuba’s firm, sued the Department of Health for medical negligence. The department paid over millions of rands into the firm’s trust account. But, it is alleged, Nonxuba stole the money.

He has now been suspended from practice.

Attorneys from Andraos and Hatchett Inc, assisted by Advocates Nazeer Cassim SC and Mohammed Desai, launched an urgent application in the Johannesburg High Court against the LPC and the Legal Practitioners Fidelity Fund, seeking to support the victims and ensure they get what is legally theirs.

A settlement agreement with the LPC now puts pressure on it to take swift action.

In their heads of argument, which came before Judge Ingrid Opperman, they said: “This matter cries out for the attention of this court and the assistance of the legal profession. It is a lawyer, Mr Nonxuba, who perpetrated the most heinous acts on the minor children who all suffer from the debilitating condition of cerebral palsy. It is thus fitting that the legal profession set right the malevolence of one of its own.”

At present, the legal team is acting for two guardians of two children. But it is believed there are more than 30 claimants.

One child’s plight was recently highlighted on investigative television show Carte Blanche. The child was found to be severely malnourished with bed sores and had to be admitted to hospital.

The legal team said the application was brought to ensure that other children did not suffer the same fate.

In their heads of argument, they said the LPC had not clothed itself with glory and splendour in relation to the complaints against Nonxuba.

“The facts depict a woeful picture. From 2013 to 2014, having known of several complaints, it did not take any steps against Mr Nonxuba.

“Only on 13 July 2019, after the MEC for Health, Western Cape Province, made an application against the LPC to investigate him did the LPC start taking steps. This is a period of approximately five to six years after they had knowledge of possible misconduct.”

The team said most of the matters arose after 2015 and had the LPC, or the Law Society (as it was back then), acted with some urgency, these children might have been saved from the misconduct of Nonxuba.

It was only in 2022, and only after court proceedings, that the LPC appointed a curator to handle the Nonxuba Inc trust account.

That order provided that the LPC trace the other victims and constitute a body of creditors, it being accepted that an amount of about R100-million was still in the account.

“To date the LPC is unable to demonstrate any completeness or efficacy of this task,” they said.

Then in August 2013, the LPC directed the children’s guardians and parents to approach the Fidelity Fund.

But while claims had been submitted, they had not been assessed, and the Fidelity Fund had not made any interim payments, evidence that it had failed to consider the constitutionally entrenched rights of children.

“It is undisputed in this matter that all applicants stem from rural areas with little or no access to courts and the true applicants are children, who are incapable of representing themselves.”

The LPC had argued, in initially opposing the application, that it was already, in consultation with investigators from the Special Investigations Unit, SAPS, Hawks and others, putting together a full and final list of trust creditors but this was a complicated task.

The legal team said, however, the net effect was that the LPC had abdicated its responsibility, in order to save its own resources.

The agreement, which was “noted” by the court, sets out an implementation plan with timelines that include advertising on local radio and television stations to invite potential trust creditors to contact the LPC offices to provide documents proving their claims.

It also directs the immediate tracing of other possible victims with assistance of the SIU.

In the event that there is not enough money to pay the full amounts of verified claims, the Fidelity Fund is to distribute the R100-million on a pro rata basis and to consider covering the shortfall.