Some highlights of my time as an attorney in Africa include:
- Sitting as chairperson of various conciliation boards convened to resolve disputes between unions and companies before strike action was initiated.
- Arbitrating wrongful termination cases-one that I vividly remember, involved the dismissal of a train driver for gross negligence. He had taken his train on a single line track without permission. A head on collision with another train was narrowly avoided.
- Representing numerous members of the San/Bushmen community for hunting giraffes. Bushmen were allowed to hunt (everything except Elephants) provided they did so in a ‘traditional’ manner. Tradition was pegged to exclude use of firearms, horses or bows made with synthetic materials.
- Working with John Marshall of the Nyae Nyae Farmers Cooperative. John had first come to Namibia in 1951 with his parents and his sister Elizabeth to ‘find’ the Bushmen who lived by gathering wild bush foods and hunting game with poison arrows in the Kalahari Desert. Their aim was to study and document their life and culture on behalf of the Smithsonian Institution and the Harvard Peabody Museum. John was one of the two founders of the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia. It provided developmental aid to the Nyae Nyae Farmers Coperative, with funding from USAID, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam UK&I, SIDA and NORAD. I was the chairperson of their board (the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation of Namibia) when I left Namibia.
Nyae Nyae Farmers Co-operative
Letter of Reference
Dated 4 December 1995
To Whom It May Concern:
John Ford has been involved with the Nyae Nyae Development Foundation for the past 6 years. In that time John has held a number of positions on the board including Secretary, Treasurer and most recently Chairperson of the board.
In all Johns time with the organization he has demonstrated a commitment to the advancement of the Ju/hoansi which has been unwavering. John has also been willing to give his time, energy and advice whenever called upon and a large degree of our success over the past 2 years has been due to John providing the necessary encouragement and good counsel in his role as Chairperson.
Many people who come on to Boards will attend meetings and provide valuable input into decision making. John has done this and more. He has been willing to travel long distances on our behalf and has in many ways, been willing to compromise his own career in his efforts to support our community. He has done this in a variety of ways including representing the Nyae Nyae Foundation on various steering committees including the USAID funded LIFE program.
This has often brought him into contact with contrasting views on Ju/hoansi development and at all times his belief in the community and its right to determine the direction and pace of development has ensured our right to own the development process. This belief in our rights has not only given us a sense of ownership but through his support of the community we have also grown in confidence to the stage where we truly believe we are now the masters of our own destiny.
I cannot speak to highly of John and his belief in and support for community development at the pace and direction decided upon by the community themselves.
On behalf of all people in Nyae Nyae we wish John every success for the future and I have no hesitation in recommending John for any endeavor which requires dedication, commitment and willingness and desire to listen to others in pursuit of common goals.
Kxao Moses #Oma
Nyae Nyae Farmers Co-operative
- As the Law Society of Namibia’s representative to the Labor Court Rules Board, I assisted, under the guidance of Judge Nicholas Hannah, in the design and implementation of the first rules for the newly established Labor Courts. The Labor Code closely followed ILO recommendations.
High Court of Namibia
12 December 1995
Dear Mr Ford:
I am sorry to hear that we will be losing you both as an attorney and as a member of the Labour Court Rules Board. Thank you very much for your valuable contribution whilst on the board and please accept my best wishes for a successful and happy career in the United States.
Nicolas Hannah (Judge)
- Representing Chief (Fumu) Erwin Mbambo Munika in his dispute with the Alfons Majavero, the incumbent, politically appointed chief of of the Mbukushu tribe。 Majavero had been appointed chief by the South African authorities as part of a divide and rule strategy to weaken opposition in rural Namibia。
- As an attorney working in Namibia from 1985 to 1995 I represented many clients who were detained by the South African Security forces. I never expected to be detained myself. Certainly not by UNITA, the de facto government in South Eastern Angola who were engaged in a civil war with the MPLA government in Luanda. I was detained with friends, Perry a Namibian, and Trevor an Australian. We had set out on an adventure-to paddle down the Kavango River from Rundu to Andara in dug out canoes (watos as they are know in the area,). The river never reaches the ocean and forms an Eden like delta in the sands of Botswanas Kalahari desert.
December and January 1991 was a time when there was a lull in the fighting between UNITA and the government MPLA forces. After the Portuguese pulled out of Angola in 1976, and the Marxist MPLA seized power, their has been an ongoing civil war between the MPLA, UNITA and to a lesser extent the FNLA. UNITA has been supported by China and USA and lastly SA. Jonas Savimbi, the charismatic leader of UNITA was still alive. There was a cease-fire in place, and elections were being planned.
One of the legacies of colonial borders in Africa is the division of tribes by national boundaries. This was very evident along the Kavango River, and locals moved from Namibia to Angola and back as they pleased. So we followed their example. If there was a better spot to have lunch on the Angolan side we went there.
One afternoon, we had just completed lunch and were taking a siesta under the shade of a large tree when we were surrounded by four AK-47 bearing UNITA soldiers. They wanted to know what we were doing in Angola, and insisted that we return with them to their base camp.
Language was a barrier. Until an interpreter arrived, communication had been largely non-verbal: guns pointed toward us, and submissive gestures from us that sought to convey respect for their authority.
Despite my insistence that we were tourists and would immediately head back to Namibia and not return, the soldiers were adamant about their demand that we accompany them to their camp.
When it became apparent that this was non-negotiable, in that the four soldiers did not have authority to release us, I agreed. We were marched through the sands to a village a couple of miles down the river.
We were directed by the leader of the four to sit in hut. The captain would be with us shortly we were told. A rickety chair was placed in the center of the hut in anticipation of his arrival.
The Captain finally arrived, sat down, and almost immediately drew two lines in the sand floor. He pointed to the middle and said fronteria which we understood to mean border. Portuguese is the nations linga franca.
He followed this up with a request for our passports. Very reasonable I thought.
I turned to my colleagues and requested their passports. I had mine, a South African one, and Perry had her Namibian passport. I was surprised to discover that Trevor was processing a visa extension at the SA embassy in Windhoek, and so did not have his.
This was not well received. Our interpreter and the captain continued to talk at length, and while I could not understand what they were saying, I kept hearing a word that made me worry. Jamba was the headquarter of UNITA at the time. It was where Jonas Savimbi was resident. It was somewhere I did not wish to go. Every time I heard it I cringed.
To give you an idea about the situation, around the same time British tourists who were traveling in Southern Angola where shot at by UNITA soldiers. Two were killed, and only one survived. Jamba would have complicated things in ways that were not desirable.
Fortunately, Trevor did have some documentation-an expired youth hostel card. It had his name and a photo. I placed my passport on top, Perrys beneath mine and Trevors at the bottom and took them over to the Captain.
What a relief-it worked! The Captain reviewed the documents and then started to write our names in a large book he carried. He was not very literate and could barely copy our names correctly. It was only with the help of myself and his chief aide that he completed the task.
The expired youth hostel card didnt appear to bother him.
Our ordeal was not yet over. We were taken to our watos and they were searched. Once they had established that we didnt have anything that was a concern (firearms, etc) to them we were allowed to leave.
It could have turned out so differently. Key aspects of the negotiations, included respect for the authority of UNITA. At no time did we suggest that the de jure government was the MPLA and that we wanted to deal with them. We remained calm and friendly. We were eager to demonstrate that we did not pose a threat.
When an impasse emerged, we had to do something. Using the expired youth hostel card was risky, but effective alternative to what was on the table. It satisfied their need to identify who we were, and record our presence in the book. Being cooperative in regard to the search helped them see that we were not a threat.
Our assumptions about formal passport control, and illegal entry into a country did not apply in this situation. Establishing rapport and demonstrating respect were more important.
- Representing a San woman who was charged with the murder of her new born baby. Allegations of infanticide were refuted by anthropologist Megan Bieslie. After being found guilty in the High Court of Namibia by Judge Levy she was sentenced to be detained until the court rose. Seconds later, as the judge stands, her sentence is served.
· Representing a People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) guerrilla seeking amnesty in terms of United Nations (UN) Resolution 435. The resolution laid down that all political prisoners or detainees held by the South African authorities had to be released before the electoral campaign began. Many were released without question, but the authorities refused to accept that others qualified. Martti Ahtisaari, the UN special representative overseeing the transition invited Professor Carl Norgaard, president of the European Commission of Human Rights, to adjudicate. In the absence of any clearly established principles, it was agreed to look at precedents in the law of extradition. British precedents were particularly relevant because the South African courts, which until independence also controlled the Namibian justice system, give special weight to the views of British judges. British courts have recognized that virtually any offence may be political what counts is the motive and the circumstances in which the crime was committed. However, Professor Norgaard added a qualification excluding claims which, viewed objectively, could serve no sensible political purpose. Professor Norgaard applied these principles and advised that several prisoners detained by the South African authorities-including my client who had placed a bomb in the popular Café Anton restaurant in the tourist town of Swakopmund- were entitled to be released. The South African government complied with his recommendations.
· Conducting a fact-finding report on behalf of the Council Of Churches of Namibia into collateral property damage suffered by residents in Northern Namibia. The day after the implementation of UN Resolution 435 which provided for Namibian Independence, an estimated 600 PLAN soldiers entered Namibia from Angola and instead of being received by UNTAG, clashed with SA-led security forces in northern Namibia. Residents were caught in the crossfire.
· Negotiating on behalf of Pescanova of Namibia the first exemption to the conditions of employment section of the Namibian Labor Code. The exemption was negotiated with the Namibia Food and Allied Workers Union (NAFAU), and provided alternative conditions for employees working at sea in the fishing industry.
Pescanova Holdings of Namibia, Ltd.
16 November 1995
To Whom It May Concern
We herby wish to confirm that Attorney John B. W. Ford, or the legal firm Lorentz and Bone, has been intimately related to our company in Namibia for more than 5 years, not only as our Companys lawyer but as our legal advisor, Personnel Consultant and negotiator, on our behalf, with Government and private organizations.
His professional input will be sorely missed by all of us at Pescanova. John Ford became an extension of our Group in Namibia, he has been considered a Pescanova man, even if under the banner of Lorentz & Bone.
Important milestones in the life of Pescanova in Namibia have been participated by Mr. Ford from beginning to end; to the extent that, today, John is perhaps the most knowledgeable professional lawyer in Namibia, in matters pertaining to the fishing industry an its legislation.
John Ford represented us during the 6 month of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Fishing Industry in 1990/1991 (our company was able to put the best case to the presiding Judge and, after that, we remained the largest and acknowledged leader of the Namibian fishing industry.) The negotiations and drafting of the Companys Recognition Agreement with the Unions, wage disputes and salary negotiation have been conducted by us under Johns guidance and control.
All the above has taken place apart from the many day-to-day legal cases where our interests have been defended admirably, by Lorentz and Bone with John Ford as a partner.
We vouch for his integrity, dedication, and professional acumen.
Pescanova wishes him the best in his new future.
Group Managing Director for Southern Africa
- Negotiating an agreement between Seaflower Lobster Corporation and the NAFAU that rescinded a deal made under duress. Lobster had been over fished during the South African occupation, and in an attempt to help with the recovery the new Ministry of Fisheries was conservative in its lobster quotas. In negotiations with the Union, an agreement was reached that did not provide security for those fishermen whose contracts were not renewed. Furthermore the financial details were less than expected for those fishermen that received a contract. The fishermen were angry and marched en masse to the company headquarters, where they surrounded the entrance and blocked the street. The company consultant went out to speak to the fishermen. He was immediately surrounded and held hostage. The fishermen communicated that unless their demands were met, the consultant would be killed. After a long day, the company decided to cave in to the fishermen’s demands. I was brought in to negotiate a way out of the tenuous situation.
D F Smuts
8 December 1995
To Whom It May Concern:
I first met Mr. John Ford at a time when I was still practicing in partnership as an attorney in 1987. He was one of several candidates interviewed for a position with my erstwhile firm, Lorentz and Bone. I was at the time the partner in the firm responsible for recruiting professional staff. He was clearly the best candidate and joined Lorentz and Bone at the beginning of 1988.
During 1988 I left Lorentz & Bone and was admitted as an advocate and have since July 1988 practiced as an advocate and a member of the Society of Advocates (although the first three years of this practice was conducted in the service of a public interest law firm). It has been in this capacity that I have come to know John Ford very well. Over the years, I have appeared in several matters in which John Ford was my instructing attorney and have as a consequence worked closely with him in these matters.
Although Mr. Ford represented a number of persons who were human rights victims of the oppressive legal system prior to Namibias independence in 1990, the emphasis of his practice has however always been in labour matters. He has over the past few years become one of the leading legal practitioners in this field in this country with proven expertise and ability in this field. He has also served on the Labour Court Rules Board of Namibia since its inception.
John Ford has always impressed me as a diligent and competent legal practitioner with a keen intellect complemented with sound judgement.
I also know John Ford as a person of unimpeachable integrity. He also has a pleasing personality and is able to get on well with his colleagues and work well in a team.
It is a pleasure to warmly recommend Mr John Ford to a prospective employer or for any further academic study.
BA LLB (Stell) LLM (Harvard)
President of the Society of Advocates of Namibia