A Tribute to Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela
1968 - 2017

Dear Friends, 

This Friday marks five months since the legal empowerment community lost one of its strongest advocates and biggest hearts: Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela, our dear friend and member of our Network Guidance Committee. 

Nomboniso contracted cerebral malaria while on a trip to Malawi, where she had been laying the groundwork for the African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice (ACE-AJ). She passed away within days. We were shaken to our core by the news of her unexpected death. 

Yet, Nomboniso's work continues. Recently, at a pan-African conference in Rwanda, representatives from government, judiciaries and community justice institutions convened to formally launch the ACE-AJ. The culmination of Nomboniso’s tireless efforts, the ACE-AJ is a key element of her legacy. She should have been there to preside over the event; her absence was keenly felt. We felt it fitting to take this moment to mourn her passing and celebrate her life.

Nomboniso was a guiding light for our movement. As the director of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO), she fought for -- and won -- recognition and financing for community-based paralegals across South Africa. Due to her leadership, these victories are now enshrined in national legislation as well as in the country’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan.

But her efforts did not end at home. Nomboniso dreamed of a paralegal movement that could operate both sustainably and at scale, not only in her own country but around the world. She served as a cherished advisor to the Global Legal Empowerment Network since its earliest days, playing a key role in our campaign for justice in the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The African Centre of Excellence for Access to Justice was the fruit of her latest efforts to strengthen community justice institutions across the continent. 

Nomboniso was an extraordinary woman of rare talent. Her brilliance, dedication, and charm swayed governments and inspired civil society. Her sense of humor and energy brightened every room she entered. Her laughter was contagious, her generosity boundless.

We are devastated by the loss of a true champion of our movement. Our hearts ache for her young family. If you would like to contribute to a fund supporting Nomboniso’s children, please contact her daughter, Nomawonga, at

Meanwhile, we vow to do all that we can to carry on her life’s work. We will start by offering an award in her name in our biennial Justice Prize competition that recognizes achievement in promoting the scalability and sustainability of community paralegal efforts. We hope to honor Nomboniso's legacy by supporting others who share her dreams.

With full hearts,
Abby, Vivek, and the whole Namati team

“In communities that have no resources and no money, and limited access to lawyers, the community-based paralegal is the first interface for them to access the services of the legal justice system. ...The inclusion of the community-based paralegal in the legal services framework would ensure that paralegals interact effectively with the entire justice system so that at all times the institution is permanent, the community member can access it, the services are regulated, and everybody understands what those services are.”
-- Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela, in a video interview, arguing for state recognition of community-based paralegals.
Photo: NADCAO website

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