You’ve done the work, cracked the studying, passed the exams - and then you're barred from it.

I saw an interesting article in the June issue of Noseweek. Apparently Gareth Prince – the Rastafarian lawyer who was denied the right to use the sacrament of his religion by the Constitutional Court and subsequently barred from practising by the Cape Law Society because he has a criminal conviction for using the sacrament of his religion – has turned into what Noseweek is happy to call “a vexatious litigant”.

It appears Prince moved into a R2.5-million rental property in Simon’s Town – owned by a music producer and his wife who live in London – turned it into a bit of a grow house, and has spent the past three years not paying rent and repeatedly using the constitutional rights of tenants, while representing himself in court, to avoid eviction. Noseweek is very cross about this on behalf of landlords everywhere – almost as cross as they would be to find a minister ignoring a court order and doling out fishy tenders, or when unmasking a big corporation taking advantage of clients too poor to fight it legally.

Noseweek is also fairly dismissive of Prince’s religion, which is called a “cult” in the article’s sub-header. To be clear: I’m no champion of Rastafarianism. Too much patriarchy, too much misogyny, too much homophobia for my taste, like most of the Abrahamic “cults”. But I am an ardent supporter of freedom of religion, if only to ensure that I can continue to join none. And if religious sacraments are off-limits to the law – the way Catholic communion wine was during US Prohibition – then Prince should be allowed to use his.

Prohibition based on prejudice against ones religion can turn one into a “vexatious litigant!”

Imagine if he had been allowed that right? Imagine if his conviction had been expunged, and the Cape Law Society had admitted him – would Prince now be an unemployed squatter? Of course not – he’d be practising law. True, he’d be practising the sort of law that people who live in London and own rental properties in Simon’s Town aren’t too concerned about, but at least he’d be paying his rent. I imagine he’d be taking on the cases of impoverished fishing communities disadvantaged by dodgy tenders, or those having their water stolen by illegally zoned golf estates – you know, the sort of thing Noseweek is usually delighted to support.

Imagine yourself, for a moment, in Prince’s shoes. From a disadvantaged background (and a minority faith treated almost universally with suspicion), you’ve conquered the heights of university. You’ve done the work, cracked the studying, passed the exams – after years of hard slog, you have that all-important qualification that allows you to enter a profession and build a better life for yourself and your community. And then you’re barred from it, because of your religion. Wouldn’t you turn into a vexatious litigant, using your hard-won knowledge to stick it to the Man, not particularly bothered by the pain your landlord is suffering in London?

If anything, this saga illustrates the illogicality of the prohibition of dagga: prohibition hasn’t stopped Prince smoking dagga, and it hasn’t stopped him practising law. All it’s done is stopped him practising law constructively.

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