Each year there appears to be a definable reason why the calibre of graduating LLB students is so important. The Class of 2016 enter a new phase in their lives when South Africa most needs an independent judiciary. Whatever one's political views, there can be no doubt in any thinking person's mind that for South Africa to remain a democracy with its much vaunted Constitution intact, our lawyers and our courts will have to judge wisely.
It is said that it is not difficult to corrupt people; it may well be that a set of circumstances exist that appear to justify leaving honesty out of the equation, but that is simply a panacea to he or she who sets off down the road to assist those who should not be assisted. In the corridors of power there are probably more than we would wish to know who have sold their souls for a sou.
Those who enter the legal profession in 2017 will be required to have balls, grow a pair or, as a high profile South African lawyer has frequently said, carry a pair in their handbags.
Seldom does a day go past when newspapers do not highlight a case of corruption at some level. The sad thing is that some of the accusations appear to drown under the next tidal wave reaching the shore – never again to see the light of day?
Many of the Class of 2016 want not just a career in law but want to make a difference to our landscape. Some would like, in time, to become judges. The baton passes down the line and it will be up to these graduates not to let it fall.
A number of the 2016 graduates are studying further, some because they want to, others because they have been unable to acquire articles. Certainly none of them will be worse off for their endeavours. However, it throws sharply into focus the fact that there are too many graduates for the number of positions available for articled clerks. This must be discouraging to the many graduates, not least those who are the crème de la crème of the year.
The #Feesmustfall movement should not have failed to have an impact. It is an emotive topic for all and its importance is not only along racial lines. Our economy, which is now in an infinitely more volatile position than it was towards the end of 2016, cannot add the burden of free tertiary education. Tertiary university education is not a right for all although it certainly is a privilege to all who undertake it. Acquiring knowledge at university is for those who truly want to study and who thirst for that particular type of knowledge. There are too many people accepted at universities and, as many discover, to great disappointment, a university degree does not guarantee work. Government needs to find a suitable solution to this crisis without delay.
Lost in the hype of the movement's action was the real tragedy - education in South Africa at both primary and secondary levels is frequently so poor that it is difficult, if not impossible, for many young people to have a clue about the direction in which they should head. Government has failed its people miserably.
It is a given that those who appear in the Top Student feature are bright. Because of the number of people who graduated cum laude and summa cum laude in 2016 something had to give to ensure everyone had a short write up. In general (although not always) it was the awards I took out - there were many other interesting aspects to everyone that could be revealed. Some people submitted information reaching nearly 2 000 words, there was limited space: what to leave in, what to take out? Some of you will be disappointed in what I have chosen to include, for this and for leaving words out of sentences and, occasionally, substituting one word for five, I apologise. What remains will still, I believe, be really interesting to our wide audience.
The articles that start the feature are excellent – words of encouragement, advice and wisdom from a new CA to a partner and an advocate. An inspiring article from a top student 10-years back who emphasises that there must be justice but more importantly there must be hope that good will stem from justice.
I wish you all well in your future endeavours.