Felicia Hlophe: From Ladysmith to lady lawyer

Nov 1, 2019 | 2019, News


Felicia is an associate lawyer at Fairbridge Wertheim Becker, the oldest law firm in Africa.

Born in Ladysmith, Kwazulu-Natal (KZN), she spent her early childhood in Mpumalanga before relocating back to KZN, in grade five when her mother was offered a better-paying job in that area.

“Moving back to KZN was a bit of culture shock, but I got over it quickly and ended up going to boarding school in the small towns of Glencoe and Dundee. At first, I felt isolated; but looking back, I am so grateful to have attended boarding school.”

Felicia’s primary school was a feeder school to the high school that she attended, and her excellent marks earned her a full bursary for her high school studies.

Up until Grade 11, Felicia focused on subject choices in science, math and physics, as she thought she wanted to be an engineer. It was only in her 11th high school year that she realised she didn’t enjoy working with numbers.

“I realised I needed to figure out what it was I wanted to do. So, my mom took me to see a career counsellor and aptitude tests showed that my strengths and interests were better suited to a career in law.”

“Before applying for my LLB degree, I thoroughly researched law as a profession and the more I read about the subject, the more excited I became.”

Having found a new course and feeling confident in this path, Felicia went from strength to strength, matriculated with exemplary marks, and was accepted for a 4-year LLB degree by one of the top universities in South Africa, the University of Cape Town (UCT).

Her career counsellor suggested that she apply for a bursary from Old Mutual and she was fortunate to receive finances to cover her tuition for the full duration of her degree. She only had to self-fund her boarding fees.

“Being accepted for my degree and being awarded a full bursary was an absolute dream come true for me,” says Felicia.

It was through a law clinic where the students – under the supervision of their lecturers – assist the less fortunate with legal services, that she found her calling which was to focus on the areas of law that impact lives.

“Law ended up being tougher than I first thought it would be, but I enjoyed it. I did, however, find it very theory-heavy and I wanted to gain practical experience, so I started attending UCT law clinic during my university vacations.”

“It was the human aspect of being able to improve people’s lives through the law, which appealed to me the most” reflects Felicia. “I started assisting the City of Cape Town with housing policy implementation as well as intergovernmental disputes.

“That’s where my interest peaked, and this is where it all came together for me,” she says.

“My interests mainly lie in public administration law. I enjoy doing research, drafting opinions, reviewing policy, legislation, and how it all plays out in real life. It’s amazing how something can start as a draft proposal in a document but bring about real change and have a huge impact on so many people’s lives.”

Felicia’s ultimate dream is to work in Parliament as a parliamentary legal advisor and bring about change through improving and creating new policies that impact the daily lives of ordinary South Africans.