The Workchop Conversation with Themba Mahleka, Co-head at HiiL Southern Africa

Written by Jesulayomi Adetola

April 29, 2021

The Workchop Conversations is an ongoing series of conversations with different players in both the law, tech & justice tech space, sharing about their work and innovative role within the space, promoting access to justice in Africa.

This week, we have Themba Mahleka, co-head at HiiL Innovation Hub Southern Africa. He is responsible for identifying and supporting legal start-ups whose innovative and/ or technological solutions help improve access to justice. Themba is an attorney by profession and simply passionate about legal tech and innovation. He does not believe that, as attorneys, “the robots are coming to take our jobs”. Instead, legal practice and the delivery of legal services are evolving and in doing so, becoming more accessible. He says that working with HiiL presents a unique opportunity to not only work in legal innovation but to do so for the benefit of those members of society who need access to justice the most.

What is that one idea that shaped how you perceived access to justice through tech?

There are many ideas that have informed my perception, one that stands out is the use of technology as a catalyst for existing solutions. An example of this is Online Dispute Resolution which takes the principles of mediation or arbitration and leverages technology to break down certain geographical or logistical barriers. It has been great to see this in action during the pandemic. 

How do you allocate time for work and other things? How do you deal with distractions?

The truth is I am still figuring this out! I have improved over the years though and being in the moment has helped. Setting goals and focusing on bite-size tasks one at a time, for me, has been more progressive than juggling multiple tasks and not having achieved much at the end of the day. Discipline is key here and that includes the discipline to unplug and recharge your mind and body.

How do you recharge or take a break?

Family. I find taking a walk with my wife and son, going to the dog park, and having dinner at the table (away from technology) as great ways to unwind at the end of the day. I took up boxing at the beginning of the year and this has quickly become one of my favorite things to do.

What is that one advantage of the Innovating Justice Challenge 2021 that you believe justice entrepreneurs must not miss?

HiiL has developed an amazing program with many benefits to offer. One such example is the community. We have found, particularly in Southern Africa, that many justice entrepreneurs feel that the space is so small that they are on the journey alone. Meeting other justice entrepreneurs and being able to tap into HiiL’s global network has resulted in some meaningful and lasting collaborations.

What are you currently reading, watching or listening to?

I am currently reading, “The Corruption Cure: How Citizens & Leaders Can Combat Graft” by Robert I. Rotberg, watching, “Last Chance U: Basketball” and listening to, “Bob Marley: Chant Down Babylon” 

Who would you like to answer these questions?

I’d be interested in hearing from Jackie Nagtegaal.

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