A tribute to a champion of our movement: Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela

Update: We sent out a tribute to Namati mailing list subscribers on Sept 7, included below. The original mailing can also be accessed here. We are very moved by the responses received from the community - thank you! It is comforting during times like these to know that our community is strong. Despite these setbacks, we have the resilience and determination to continue the struggle.

Last week we learned that our dear friend and cherished member of our Network Guidance Committee, Nomboniso Nangu Maqubela (@nomboniso) , passed away on April 8. She died unexpectedly of cerebral malaria. We are all devastated by the news.

Nomboniso was an incredible woman. She was a guiding light, a force to be reckoned with. Her brilliance, tireless dedication, and charm swayed governments and inspired civil society. Her laughter was contagious, her warmth and generosity boundless. As the director of the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) in South Africa, she advised Namati closely on growing the global network and advocating for justice on ever greater scales.

NADCAO has written about Nomboniso’s many life accomplishments and the Sunday Times has released her obituary. In an interview we recorded previously, you can hear Nomboniso argue for state recognition of community-based paralegals in her own voice - a lofty dream she fought for over many years, and one she saw through to fruition.

Nomboniso was a true champion of our movement. Legal empowerment was a way of life for her. We are honored to have known her. And we will miss her so very much.

We at Namati are discussing ways to build a fitting tribute to her legacy. Please let us know if you have any ideas. In the meantime, we will do all that we can to honor her by carrying on her life’s work, sowing compassion and seeking justice.

With full and heavy hearts, Abby, Vivek, and the Network Team

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 [email protected].

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, a video interview, arguing for state recognition of community-based paralegals.

Photo: NADCAO website


Save those of Goodness and virtue, there will come a time when death the grand leveller will reduce us all to the same state. Rest in peace and may light perpetual on continue to shine upon her


Yesterday when @abigailmoy gave me this news my heart broke. Why does it always seem to be the most precious among us who are cruelly taken away too soon?

I met Nomboniso for the first time in February during my visit to Johannesburg. We sat outside face to face at Doppio Zero in Rosebank-- spoke for 2+ hours about South Africa, her work on legal empowerment, Nadcao’s history, as well as the history of the legal aid movement… she even arrived early (before me!) to our lunch date, which is saying something considering I was there 15 minutes before schedule. Even though I know she was incredibly busy and doing me a favor, she seemed to have all the time and patience in the world.

She was so humble, so brilliant, passionate, and kind. Even though we only knew each other briefly, she made a huge impact on me. I am 100% on board to brainstorm and build a fitting tribute to her legacy-- please do keep me looped in and let me know what I can do.


I am deeply sorry to hear this terrible news. The legal empowerment community has lost a true champion, and certainly countless people a dear friend and loving relative. My thoughts go out to them all.


Sista I was shocked and distressed when I heard of her demise. She was supposed to be on her way to Freetown. This is a great loss for the movement.


So sad. I remember the warm welcome she gave me while in South Africa, and even organized a visit to the advise centers despite knowing that there was a demonstration in Orange farm. She was very passionate about sustainability of advise centers. The one hour I spent with her she I almost had information overflow. She was a fountain of knowledge. So sad.:cry:


Nomboniso was luminous; one of those indispensable people, who make the world a better place. She was the first NGC member I met the first time I came to NYC and welcomed me with a huge smile that I will never forget. Then, talking with her, I knew her intensity, commitment, and wisdom. She had such a positive energy that was contagious. People like her never die completely, and we should find the ways to keep her legacy and teaching with us in the pursuit of a more equal and fair world.


Thank you all for your kind words. I have updated the original post to contain the tribute we recently sent as a Namati mailing. I will include replies that we received via email in the posts below.


This is such sad news. I met Nombo at an event we had organised and she spoke at the event as well. I spoke to her afterwards and was struck by her bubbly personality. She made me laugh and think and gave the best hugs.

I hope her soul is at peace.


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Received by email from Weedor B. Koiblee:

So sad to hear, may her gentle soul rest in perfect peace. My condolence to the Namati Team. Let her legacy reign.


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Very sad. I remember her and I was in Kigali conference when it was mentioned that she passed on.

May her soul rest in eternal peace.

Many thanks Abigail and team.


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What!!! Oh my God…!! My heart still doubts this reality of the sudden passing of a great person full vision and passion for access to justice! Oh, how sad is this news… How sad… I am so sorry to hear this.

My sincere condolences to Nadcao team and Namati.

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We wholeheartedly join in Solidarity to give tribute to such a great member of the Legal Empowerment Network, Indeed, we will continue to emulate her great work.

May God guide and protect her Family she left behind.


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Received by email from Francis Kollie:

Thanks for the share. A great loss indeed and may her soul rest in perfect PEACE and her dreams continue to live on.

PFL Team

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I am deeply sorry to hear about the death of “Nomboniso Nangu Muqubela” and words seems inadequate to express the sadness what we feel about the Nomboniso’ death. With sincere sympathy, we are here to support each other in this grieving process on a great loss to our network. “May her soul rest in peace”, Ameen!.

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It is so sad to lose such a great woman in the legal empowerment movement. May her soul rest in peace

sad indeed to hear that . i remember when she visited our community justice center and we had a big hope in her network to gather with Mr Clifford Msiska of Malawi This is Michael PARALEGAL FROM KITUO CHA SHEIRA MISS U NANGO

Received by email from Allan Kasongo:

May her soul rest in eternal peace.


Allan Kasongo

May her Soul RIP!