This month we speak to lawyer and author, Star Koketso Lediga, who holds a bachelor of laws from the University of Pretoria, and is an admitted attorney of the high court of South Africa. I came across Koketso’s Instagram account a few weeks ago and immediately recognized her as somebody I went to high school with. If my memory serves me right, I think she was in matric when I was in grade 8. I remember her because she was hard not to notice. Tall, beautiful and vocal!
Koketso specializes in construction, engineering law and energy law and sheis also a managing director at Infra-Afrika, an advisory firm that offers legal, engineering and financing-related advisory services.
This phenomenal woman in law recently became an independent published author. In this interview she tells us more about her book – Kole Meets Mama Winnie’s Southern African Friends.
FWIL: What inspired you to study law?
KL: I wish I had some profound and inspiring response but even though I have two uncles that studied law, I grew up wanting to be a social worker (and/or ambitiously, an engineer that designs car engines). My mother was the one who suggested that I study law after matric. Thanks to that, I am an admitted attorney with an LLB from the University of Pretoria, I have worked at two of the top law firms in Sandton and an international firm. I have just completed a Master’s degree in construction law and Dispute Resolution at Kings College London.
FWIL: What/who inspired you to specialize in construction, engineering law and energy law?
KL: My first female boss at one of the big five firms. I walked out of a two hour interview with her excited about this niche area of law. I knew very little about construction and engineering law but after witnessing her passion, I decided it is something I wanted to try.
FWIL: As a woman in law, and more specifically in construction, engineering and energy law, have you experienced gender bias? Please tell us about the challenges, if any, that you have faced.
KL: More often than not, male engineers think that they can do my job better than I can because legal field and construction sector are spaces that are dominated by men. Having said this, the biggest challenge for me has been people assuming a lack of competence based on the way a look (being a tall, light skinned woman with sex appeal).
FWIL: You are currently in the final stages of getting your first children’s book published. Please tell us more about this
KL: Yes. The title is Kole meets Mama Winnie’s southern African friends. It is a historical fiction book about a little girl called Kole who goes on holiday with her mother for the first time, away from her cousins. She makes imaginary friend, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who keeps her company for the duration of the holiday by introducing Kole to new friends, Mama Winnie, Mme Charlotte, Ntate Samora, Ntate Biko, Mme Victoria, Ntate Sobukwe and Ntate Khama, who teach Kole about some of the history of southern African, the struggle for liberation and about living a life of purpose.
The book is 64 pages long and has a selling price of R200. People who would like to purchase it can go to www.kagisanofoundation.co.za or www.ethnikids.co.za. The book is suitable for kids aged between 8 and 12 years but I personally, want kids and adults to read the book together and have conversations about some of the characters. All the proceeds from the sale of the book will go to the Mobile Reading Lad project, which is a project by my foundation, Kagisano Foundation – founded in 2015, which teaches kids how to read, while equipping them with computer skills.
FWIL: What does being an alpha female mean to you?
KL: Although nowadays, the term alpha female is used to refer to women who occupy high positions in the corporate or political space, I like referring back to Maslow’s 1939 writings, on dominant women. He describes dominant women as women who have more self-confidence, prefer independence and “standing on their own feet”, lack feelings of inferiority, and generally do not care for concessions that imply they are weak or that they need special attention and cannot take care of themselves; and most importantly, for me, women who prefer to be treated or engaged on the person of being a “person” and not a “woman”.
FWIL: Do you identify as a feminist? (Why/why not)
KL:I absolutely identify as a feminist. I spent my early twenties reading a lot on feminist theory and now I am spending my late twenties trying to live out some of the principles in my daily life.
FWIL: The journey of most legal professionals is not always an easy one. What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way and how have they shaped your outlook on life?
KL: The most important lessons can from my first female boss. The first is the importance of what she referred to as “hunting in packs”. There is truly strength in numbers, especially for women and I have seen this within and outside of law firms.
FWIL: What is the best advice you would give to aspiring legal professionals?KL:Brace yourself. The life of law is demanding, challenging and rewarding…you just never know which option will be served to you on what day.
FWIL: You are also the managing director of Infra-Afrika, please tell us more about the company and the services that you provide.
KL: Infra-Afrika is an advisory firm that offers legal, technical and finance related services to clients in the infrastructure and energy sectors. Our aim is to be Africa’s one-stop shop specialist energy and infrastructure advisory firm that delivers solutions that clients usually get separately from law firms, consulting engineers and financial advisors under a single roof. We draft contracts, advise on feasibility, design, procurement and implementation strategies, workshops and training in accordance with your requirements.
FWIL: What attributes do you think every young lawyer needs to have?
KL: Being resourceful
FWIL: What recent change/amendment in the law has caught your attention? (Do you agree with the change? Why/why not)
KL: The proposed wider powers given to the auditor-general in the Public Audit Amendment Bill. The new powers set out in the bill will go a long way in improving governance.
FWIL: The world is constantly changing, in your opinion, what are some of the challenges that legal professionals will face in future?
KL: Contrary to popular opinion, I do not thinking that the changing world will present any new challenges to the legal profession.
FWIL: As a legal professional, it is quite important to effectively use your network. How do you meet other legal professionals and what are some of your effective networking skills?
KL:I use a networking skill introduced to me by first female boss. She once told me (and a room of female lawyers) that hunting in packs is a power tool in business development for women. I have held on to this and usually make new connections through the joint efforts of myself and two or more people in my network.
FWIL:Which phenomenal woman in law would you call your role model?
KL: My first female boss Nikita Lalla
FWIL: What books have you read that have greatly influenced your life?
KL: All about love by Bell Hooks. It is one of the few books I refer back to regularly and will do so for the rest of my life. My favourite quote is “When we can see ourselves as we truly are and accept ourselves, we build the necessary foundation for self-love…whether we learn how to love ourselves and others will depend on the presence of a loving environment. Selflove cannot flourish in isolation.”Other books are, Maru by Bessie Head and I have life by Marianne Thamm
FWIL: What’s a quote that you live by? Your mantra
KL: Keep going until you need rest; and when the time comes to rest, do so without feeling guilty and punishing yourself.State and/or determine your purpose.
FWIL: How do you remain autonomous while working in corporate?
KL: I had the benefit of having my early years in corporate include seniors that either did not mind or encourage their juniors to be comfortable with governing themselves so there was no need to put any effort into being or remaining autonomous. When I eventually found myself in a space where I could not be autonomous, I left to create a space where I could be autonomous.
FWIL: How can people reach out to you? (social media handles)
Instagram: koketsostarlediga and Kagisano_foundation
Facebook: Coolnerd Koketso Lediga
LinkedIn: Koketso Lediga
Twitter: @sterretjie / StarLediga