A leading South African practice
|People in Who’s Who Legal||1|
|Pending cases as counsel||10|
|Value of pending counsel work||US$85 million|
Werksmans’ international arbitration practice first grew shoots in the 1970s under the leadership of Cyril Jaffe. Des Williams QC worked closely with Jaffe (who died in 2014) and has continued to invest resources in developing the arbitration practice. A highly respected figure in the arbitration bar, Williams is a member of the ICC Court and a director of the Arbitration Foundation of Southern Africa.
After Williams became chairman of the firm in 2005, David Hertz took over as head of litigation and dispute resolution and he’s now succeeded Williams as the firm’s chairman. Other partners include mining arbitration specialist Chris Stevens and Roger Wakefield.
The firm has played a lead role in many of the country’s highest-profile arbitrations.
It has offices in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Tyger Valley and Stellenbosch. The firm is also a co-founding member of the Lex Africa legal network, which covers 54 countries.
Who uses it?
Werksmans has represented the South African Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s Aberdeen International, banking software vendor Temenos and French oil and gas company Heurtey Petrochem. Other clients include South African Breweries (part of SABMiller) in a post-M&A dispute that has lasted 18 years; and retail company Edcon in a dispute with Barclays over store card accounts.
Glencore subsidiaries Katanga Mining and Kamoto Copper have turned to the firm for several disputes over a project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In one matter, the client is pitched against China’s Zhongji. Another Glencore unit in Namibia has used it for a dispute with India’s Vedanta group.
Williams successfully represented South African wireless provider Telkom in a long-running breach of contract dispute with US-based Telcordia. The case began with an ICC claim in 2001, before spilling out to the local courts. The matter was finally settled in 2010, with Telkom paying about half of what the other side originally claimed.
Williams continues to advise South African Breweries in a dispute with Shoprite Holdings dating back to an asset sale in 1997. The client has already prevailed on most issues in two arbitrations but a third is ongoing.
The firm also helped Katanga Mining win rulings from the High Court in Johannesburg and the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein upholding the principles of party autonomy and competence-competence, and allowing the client’s dispute to go to arbitration.
Evert Scholtz, managing director of manufacturing company Afridizi Bottling, says the firm seized command of his arbitration from the first day, showing commitment and preparation. “They knew what they were aiming for and didn’t waste time. They have proven their mettle to me over and over,” he says.
Stan Rothbart, in-house counsel at Medscheme, also praises the partners’ “total commitment and involvement” and the knowledge of the team as a whole.