After graduating with a Law degree in 2012, Ilza Le Minnie has spent the last 5 years representing those that can’t afford to defend themselves. Her commitment to helping the vulnerable was rewarded when she received a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as one of the recipients of the 2017 Mandela Washington Fellowship.
The Fellowship, which began in 2014, aims to empower young Africans through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. It is a highly sought after accolade and this year alone; Ilza had to compete against 64000 applicants from right across the continent. The recipients are given the opportunity to study at a U.S. university and they are provided with the necessary support to pursue their professional goals. The recipients have gone on to achieve significant success in their careers and have also established a reputation for bringing positive change in their communities.
Born and bred in the Eastern Cape, Ilza currently works as an attorney for ‘Legal Aid South Africa’ where she focuses on helping vulnerable people on criminal matters as well as divorces, evictions and children’s court matters. Her desire to help vulnerable people began when her mother, a prison warden, use to take her and her sister to the prison. During her time spent at the prison, her inquisitive young mind began to question the fairness of the justice system. She noticed that offenders did not have anyone to speak for them and stand up for their rights. In most cases; offenders were jailed because of social conditions rather criminal behaviour. Her interest in the criminal justice system led her to complete her degree in Law at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, where she majored in Advanced Family and Advanced Criminal Law.
Of the fellowship, Ilza feels that it is an “honour being chosen” but admits that the “application process was quite strenuous”. “It still feels quite fairy-tale like that a simple girl like me from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape could leave family and friends behind to journey to the Western Cape to find work and make a success of my career as an attorney,” says Ilza. She added that being chosen as a Fellow “just opens up many more doors” for her to learn and to improve her work in the community.
During her Fellowship, she will be completing a public management course at Texas Tech University after which she will return to South Africa to contribute to improving the justice system. She believes in a justice system that rehabilitates offenders so that they can become productive members of their community instead of destructive members. She feels that can be done through a transparent and accountable government, the proper enforcement of the law and Constitution, and making sure that community members are involved in the legal processes to ensure their rights are enforced and protected.
Source(s): IOL (edited from an article written by Marvin Charles), other