6 January 2021

IN REMEMBRANCE OF DONNA GAIL FORTUIN

1980 – 2021

It is with deep sadness that The Women’s Legal Centre and its staff report the passing of our dearest colleague and friend, Donna Gail Fortuin. Donna passed away in the early hours of 6 January 2021 at Constantiaberg Hospital in Cape Town due to COVID-19 related complications.

No words can adequately convey our sadness and distress at Donna’s passing. Her death is a devastating loss, not only for our organisation, but for the social justice sector as a whole. Donna was a crucial member of our team who worked tirelessly to combat the injustices, inequality and marginalisation faced by many women and communities in South Africa. Donna dedicated her life to the pursuit of social justice in South Africa and her absence will be keenly felt by all she knew. Her death will set back efforts to create an equal and just South Africa.

Donna’s commitment to the advancement of social justice started in 2004 when she commenced her articles of clerkship with Legal Aid South Africa. Following this, she dedicated her work to the advancement and realisation of constitutional rights within family law and on the need to promote access to justice for the most vulnerable members of society. Donna also worked passionately to build capacity in social justice lawyering in South Africa. When she worked for the Legal Aid clinic at the University of Western Cape she was well known and loved as both a clinician and a teacher. During this time she went beyond teaching students the practice of law to also inculcate them an understanding of the need for social justice.

Due to her extensive expertise in family law, she was recruited by the Office of the Family Advocate in the Western Cape. She was a Family Advocate for three years during which time she worked to protect the best interests of children and their constitutional rights.

She was later appointed as a senior legal attorney within the Civil Practice of Legal Aid South Africa, where she was tasked with civil litigation, advocacy and community training. In this role, Donna oversaw the paralegals at Legal Aid South Africa and had a strong commitment to the development of advice offices and the recognition of community-based paralegals. Donna worked directly with community-based advice offices in the Western Cape and assisted with building their capacity and support.

Donna recently joined the Women’s Legal Centre to run our organisation’s Legal Advice Unit. In this role she worked to support and strengthen the community-based Human Rights Defenders’ efforts in parts of the Western Cape who are the first port of call for legal interventions in family law disputes and critical to the promotion and access to justice for marginalised and vulnerable communities. Donna had high hopes of using this role to increase access to justice for marginalised groups as part of the Centre’s team. We are devastated at her passing.

On a personal level, Donna was kind, compassionate, and hardworking. She was well-loved at our Centre and made a profound impact on our staff in such a short time. She was cherished and loved by her family, including her parents, Eileen and Paul, her sister Jill, brother-in-law Bruce, and her niece and nephew. The Women’s Legal Centre has reached out to Donna’s family to offer our support at this difficult time.

Details of the funeral and memorial service are yet to be finalised.

The WLC and staff are grateful to have had the opportunity and honour to work with Donna doing work that she loved. We will honour her memory and dedicate our organisation and our individual efforts to continuing the work and principles she advocated.

We express our deepest condolences to the Fortuin family, friends and all those who loved and cared for Donna.

Rest in eternal power Donna, we will miss you and remember you always.