Feisty pensioner lives his dream, passing a law degree

Proud ex-soldier Philip Dhlamini thanks Judge Frans Kgomo for inspiring him to study law.
Proud ex-soldier Philip Dhlamini thanks Judge Frans Kgomo for inspiring him to study law.

A pensioner did not let rejection by the University of Limpopo (UL) to enrol as a student stop him from realising his dream of earning a law degree.

Philip Dhlamini, 69, from Roodepoort, on the West Rand, on Monday obtained his LLB degree after a virtual graduation ceremony.

But the feisty old timer and a former soldier had to teach the University of Limpopo a lesson in law, when he took it to court to fight the decision to reject his application.

Speaking to Sowetan yesterday, Dhlamini told of how when his application was not responded to by UL and the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, he drove to Limpopo to seek clarity.

"I found out that the registrar was not aware of some provisions of the law that allowed me to study, hence their rejection of my application," he said.

Dhlamini said he then took his application battle to court.

"The matter was settled out of court with an agreement that I have been accepted. I drafted my court papers in the matter against the university."

He said in 2015, his dream came close to realisation as he was now a full-time student and had settled in well on campus. He said as expected he became the centre of attention because of his age, but
refused to let it distract him.

"The funny part was that my classmates were aged between 17 and 18, but because on a daily basis I engage with the youth, it was not a problem. I also confused junior lectures mistaking me for a professor because of my age and some thought I was investigating lecturers as they saw me in exam rooms."

The Emdeni-born, Soweto, graduate is a father of five, ranging from 30 to 43. He said the suffering of his older siblings over unjust pass laws during apartheid persuaded him to study law one day.

The former unionist and retired member of the SA National Defence Force said the journey was not easy.

"When I retired from the military in 2013, I worked for a law firm called Sekati Monyane Attorneys as a litigation manager in Pretoria. While I was there, former PAC president Letlapa Mphahlele took me to court as I was the chairperson of the party's disciplinary committee."

Dhlamini said he represented himself and judge Frans Kgomo told him it was never too late to study law.


"We were appealing his decision and I represented myself before judge Frans Kgomo of the North Gauteng High Court [in Pretoria]. I was able to persuade judge Kgomo and he later recommended that I should obtain an LLB," he reminisced.

Dhlamini said his next move is to practice since he had applied to serve articles at various law firms.

He said his stint as a student helped him to build younger students and restore confidence in those who were not doing well in their studies.

"I didn't hide my test or assignment results with fellow students whether I passed or failed because I would use that to encourage them to work hard. I would tell them that failing is an opportunity to study again and this time, better than before," Dlamini said.

He said even when he only had standard 6 (now Grade 8), his interest to study law grew every day.

"In the the 80s, I was involved in the trade union and I had a skill to understand the law and I eventually ended up representing workers in hearings and labour courts," he said.

He is also a former secretary of the General South African Black Municipality and Allied Workers Union.

Dhlamini said during apartheid, he shared a cell with seasoned journalists Mathata Tsedu and John Tlholoe.

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