South Africa: Odette Geldenhuys, a Lawyer Doing Heart Work That Benefits All


Attorney and filmmaker Odette Geldenhuys peppers her sentences with 'ja, ja, ja' as she thinks deeply while speaking.

Over Zoom, her gaze is startlingly blue and level.

One of South Africa's foremost pro bono lawyers - and one of three partners at top firm Webber Wentzel's pro bono department - attorney and filmmaker Odette Geldenhuys's job is to defend people without the power to do so, at no charge to themselves.

In Cape Town over lockdown, Geldenhuys has worked around the clock tying up the last loose ends on the Western Cape's largest land claim case to date. Along the West Coast, the Ebenhaeser community consisting of 1,800 people will have close to 1,300 hectares mostly under grape and vegetable farms returned to them.

"So the land claim is for the Ebenhaeser community, about 40 kilometres from Vredendal," says Geldenhuys. "So ja, they were dispossessed of their land in 1925 to make way for poor whites; who basically got the benefits of an irrigation scheme, cheap if not free land, assistance with farm implements and seed, et cetera, et cetera, and the Ebenhaeser people - descendants of indigenous peoples - got moved to a corner of what had been their...

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