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Adv Denzil Owen Potgieter SC

Capacity: Advocate
First admitted as Advocate: July 1985 | Senior Counsel 1996
Gender: Male
Ethnicity:
Date of Birth: January 1957
Qualifications: BA Law, BA (Hons), LLB (UWC), LLM (Constitutional & International Trade Law) (UNISA), Dip. (International Trade Law) (California, USA).

Key Judgments:

  • SAMWU obo Abrahams and Others v City of Cape Town [2008] 7 BLLR 700 (LC).
  • JF v PF (2272/2020) [2021] ZAECPEHC 14 (25 February 2021)
  • Wardle v Director of Public Prosecutions (1375/2020) [2021] ZAECPEHC (21 January 2021).

Candidate Bio:

Advocate Denzil Potgieter SC is a stalwart of the liberation struggle in South Africa, and a stalwart of the Cape Bar. It is therefore curious that he is applying for a judge position in the Eastern Cape High Court and not the Western Cape. But a quick dive in his history tells you the reason why: Potgieter was born in Uitenhage (now Kariega), Eastern Cape, a town within the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. That is probably where he witnessed firsthand some of the apartheid injustices which propelled him into youth activism and an illustrious career in using the law to fight for justice and liberation.

Potgieter explains that he was compelled to leave his home in the Eastern Cape to study at the University of the Western Cape, the only university reserved for people the apartheid government classified as ethnically “Coloured”. It was there that he received his political orientation but also earned a string of qualifications: a Bachelor of Arts, a BA Honours (in Philosophy) and an LLB degree. He would go on to earn several other postgraduate qualifications in International Trade Law, including from the University of California.

Potgieter started his legal career in 1980 as an articled clerk (candidate attorney) at prestigious Cape law firm Bisset, Bhoemke & McBlain. After being admitted as an attorney and conveyancer, he joined the law firm of the late Justice Minister Dullah Omar, AM Omar & Co as a professional assistant (associate attorney). He then earned the elusive triple admission, this time as a notary public.

After his time as an attorney, Potgieter joined did pupilage and took up chambers at the Cape Bar in 1985. When the apartheid state declared a state of emergency, Potgieter’s practice as a “struggle lawyer” took on a new life, and he was then immersed in political litigation. His practice involved defending anti-apartheid activists charged with political offences like treason and terrorism, but also secured release of business people who supported the anti-apartheid struggle. His work also took him to Namibia, where he defended anti-apartheid activists from SWAPO (the South Western African People’s Organisation) and its military wing, PLAN (the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia).

In 1990 with the lifting of the ban of political organisations like the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress, Potgieter’s practice scope of clients widened to representing state institutions and public entities in democratic South Africa. In 1996, he was appointed as a Truth and Reconciliation Commission commissioner, where he sat on the Amnesty Committee, which had the ominous task of receiving amnesty applications from some of grand apartheid’s most cold-blooded killers. He sat on the TRC until its closure in 2001.

Potgieter has been appointed as an acting judge in the Western Cape High Court, the Eastern Cape High Court and the Labour Courts intermittently since 20011. He has written several judgments. In SAMWU obo Abrahams and Others v City of Cape Town, a matter dealing with an interdict pending disciplinary proceedings involving municipal workers participating in a strike, Potgieter agreed with the trade union that the municipality’s disciplinary proceedings were in breach of their collective bargaining agreements, and granted an interdict to stop these agreements.

As a skilled advocate with nearly 40 years in legal practice, Potgieter has represented clients both large and small in fighting against the might of the evil of the apartheid state in two countries. After democracy, Potgieter has applied his skills building a new, just South Africa ­ as lead counsel in some of the most high-profile cases to come before the High Courts, the Labour Courts, the Supreme Court of Appeal and even the Constitutional Court.

Potgieter is also well known as the founding member of the Cape branches of both the National Democratic Lawyers Association (NADEL) and Advocates for Transformation.

Potgieter’s appointment to the Eastern Cape High Court would hold tremendous symbolic significance: it would crown an illustrious career in Human Rights and the fight against apartheid oppression, but it would also be a welcome homecoming to the son of the Eastern Cape soil.

April 2022 Interview