From a village to his own law firm

Back in 2003, a young Lesley Lehodi Nkoana took the R1200 his parents gave him to go and train as a security guard and went to the University of Venda (Univen) instead.

"Immediately after matric my father, who was not working at that time, and my mother, who was still a domestic worker, gave me the money to train as a security guard.

"I took the money and took a different route altogether," 34-year-old Nkoana said.

He set off from Botlokwa, a rural area north of Polokwane in Limpopo and enrolled for a bachelor of arts degree at Univen, where he says he found university life quite hard.

"It was very tough. My parents gave me R1200. With that money I had to buy food and pay for accommodation.

"At one point I worked at a bakery during the night and attended lectures during the day. I had to do this to survive."

But all that is history. Nkoana is now an attorney based in Pretoria and runs his own firm, Lehodi Nkoana Attorneys.

After a year at Univen, Nkoana switched to the University of Pretoria and enrolled for an LLB degree.

"I got accommodation at the university and started working at McDonald's until I completed my degree."

Nkoana specialises in medical negligence, road accidents and civil matters.

He practised as an advocate from 2011 to 2015 before choosing to proceed as an attorney.

Nkoana said attorneys enjoy a broader reach of clientele than advocates.

"When you're an advocate you become limited. I decided to become an attorney because I wanted to engage with a large number of people on the ground.

"As an advocate, you only get briefs from attorneys. Attorneys become your clients. So, it depends on the matters that they give you.

"But, as an attorney you have an upper hand because you're able to deal with a lot of different matters."

Lehodi goes against popular belief that being an advocate is "more a badge of honour" than being an attorney.

"This perception is wrong because an attorney may also get a right to appear in the high court, just like an advocate, if he so wishes.

"The only reason we have advocates is because they specialise. They become experts in a particular field," he said.

But what Nkoana would like to see happen less in society is "the perception that only people with money can access law and the courts".

"There are a number of institutions where they assist people for free. But those institutions are undermined by the very same people who think lawyers are expensive.

"I think the government must do more to educate our people about how important lawyers are and how they could access the law," he said.

Nkoana has been active in politics since his university days as a member of the South African Students Congress and ANC Youth League.

He believes his political involvement has played a significant role in his career.

"Being in politics actually sharpened my mind," Nkoana said.

"It helped me interface, deliberate issues and articulate my views [in court]. It would not have been this way if I did not involve myself actively in politics."

Describing himself as spiritual, Nkoana established the Limpopo Gospel Choristers this year. Acclaimed musicians Selaelo Selota and Thembisile Ntaka ran auditions for membership to the choir.



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