From Chatsworth to Paris: Attorney has never forgotten her roots

Shamla Pather

Shamla Pather

Published Jun 8, 2024


SHAMLA Pather described herself as an “average but talkative pupil”at school, who realised that she needed to make something of her life as her parents were not wealthy. They had four children to raise, and getting an education, she knew, was a luxury.

When the 51-year-old lawyer, who was raised in Chatsworth, received the Bharat Gaurav Award on Wednesday in the French Senate in Paris, France, she reflected on her biggest motivators - her parents Boya and Vasigie Pather.

“I had just turned 21 when I lost my mum. She did not see me graduate, and she would miss every milestone I would achieve thereafter. My life changed in an expected way, and that carefree, happy-go-lucky person had to grow up very fast.

“From 21, I became 31 overnight. I had to take care of my dad and my older brothers, run a household, and make sure I would pass my final year. It was blood, sweat and tears. Mum became my driving force and my reason to succeed. She had invested a lifetime in us, and I knew I would spend my lifetime living up to the legacy that she had left.”

Pather said tragedy struck again when her dad died.

“In the space of four years, I became an orphan. I was the youngest but became the head of the household. Even today, I work at that frenetic pace; juggling home, work and family. I know that great achievements and success require hard work and determination and it is something that does not deter me.

“I have no doubt that my parents are smiling down on me with love and admiration. I am certain that if they were alive, it would have been a non-stop celebration when I received my award. As a parent myself, I understand the deep admiration that parents have for their children. I have given thanks to both of them for their blessings in the last 30 years that they have not been in my life.”

When she looks back, Pather said she had never forgotten her roots.

“I was born and raised in Unit 11 (Crossmoor). Life was simple. I enjoyed school and sports as a child as I was an athlete. The unspoken rule was that you were raised by the community, who instilled humility, respect and commitment in us.”

The little girl, who often had the word “talkative” inserted on her school report, said she was never shy and participated in debates and speech contests from primary school and excelled in athletics.

“This gave me some popularity amongst my peers. I was cheerful, happy and content as a teenager. I was an avid reader and at that time, I wanted to be a writer. I was raised in a religious home, and going to the temple and observing prayers was an extension of my life, creating balance and respect.

“I was also family oriented as my parents were devoted to us and instilled family values in us. We did not have the luxuries of life but were raised in a home that demonstrated that family was most important. We entertained our entire extended family, and that was a way of life.”

Pather, who now resides in uMhlanga Ridge, obtained a BProc degree from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

She said she was employed as a lawyer at Krish Govender Attorneys where she completed her articles of clerkship.

“After earning R500 as a clerk, I graduated to R1 500 as a lawyer when I qualified in January 1998. My first case was representing three accused in a criminal matter that went to trial. I was briefed by the Legal Aid Board through my firm and the trial ran for three days. They were all acquitted.

“At that point I realised I wanted to be involved in litigation. I gained experience in the criminal courts, and acquainted myself with decorum, respect and learnt from the then magistrates and prosecutors, and used this experience to graduate my practice into commercial and specialised fields, never forgetting the lessons learnt.”

Pather said she looked up to fellow women in law: Judge Navi Pillay, senior attorney Zubeida Seedat, and advocate Jacky Julyan.

“Pillay was humble and generous with her knowledge. Seedat always had a kind word of encouragement, while Julyan took me under her wing and taught me about life and law. She gave me the courage to practise beyond my comfort zone, introduced me to the international arena, and told me that if I looked the part, half my battle was won.”

Today, Pather runs Shamla Pather Attorneys Inc. She has been in practice for 26 years and refers to herself as “totally driven” and “a hard boss, as I have come up the trenches”.

Pather won Businesswomen of the Year in 2011 (Nedbank and Telkom), was nominated in 2019 as Top 100 Women in Business (Standard Bank) in KwaZulu-Natal, and as a Top Women in Business in 2024 (KZN Top Business).

She is a member of the South African Women’s Forte (SAWF), run by founder Rita Abraham. On June 27, Pather will be the recipient of the 2024 Honorary President’s award, presented by the SAWF.

“Receiving these awards is surreal. The fact that you are nominated by your peers and that you succeed is a huge compliment and so humbling. It spurs me to do better and to make these organisations proud of their recognition.”

Shamla Pather

The Bharat Guarav Award - made possible by the Bharat Gaurav Committee, Sanskriti Yuva Sanstha and GIO (Global Indian Organisation) - seeks to identify and honour individuals who have excelled in their fields and made inroads into the upliftment of society. It identifies these individuals who are of Indian origin worldwide.

When she is not in court, Pather enjoys cooking, having a glass of wine, socialising and travelling.

She said her daughter Jayde, 22, who recently graduated cum laude from the University of Cape Town with a business science degree, was her best friend; and efers to Thor, her Yorkie, as her son.

Asked if she would spend some time travelling while in Paris, Pather said she would return after the awards due to court commitments.

“In fact, I will be at court on June 3 and then travel from court to catch my flight.”

Clearly she means what she says: “If I have committed to a matter or a client, the work gets done.”


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