Thembile Lewis Skweyiya was born in Worcester in the Western Cape. He is married to Sayo Nomakhosi Skweyiya and they have four children.
Skweyiya attended primary school in Cape Town, where his parents settled. But in 1959 he matriculated at the Healdtown Institution in the Eastern Cape. He was awarded a Bachelor of Social Science degree by the University of Natal in 1963 and an LLB by the same university in 1967.
From 1968 to 1970 Skweyiya served his articles of clerkship in an attorney’s office. In 1970 he was admitted as an advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa and become a member of the Society of Advocates in Natal.
From 1971 to 1996 he practised as an advocate in Durban.
His practice dealt almost exclusively in commercial and civil matters. From about the end of 1979, however, Skweyiya’s work became more varied and he began handling cases not only in Durban, but in all Supreme Court divisions in Southern Africa.
From about 1981, the bulk of his work involved human rights and civil liberties cases, including:
- many political trials all over South Africa, which invariably involved political, labour, or student organisations (for example the African National Congress, the Pan Africanist Congress, the Black People’s Convention, the South African Students’ Organisation and a variety of others);
- cases involving the rights of people detained in terms of security laws;
- matters involving workers and trade-union officials; and
- inquests into the deaths of people in detention.
However, from the time Skweyiya took silk in 1989, the focus of his practice shifted back to commercial and civil work.
Skweyiya was admitted as an advocate of the High Court of Lesotho in 1974.
From 1980 to 1982 he was a member of the Bar Council of Natal. In 1989 he became a senior advocate and in 1992 the High Court of Namibia admitted him as senior counsel.
Between October 1995 and January 2001, Skweyiya acted as a High Court Judge in the Natal and Eastern Cape divisions for various periods – two years in all. He took up a permanent appointment on 1 February 2001.
Skweyiya acted as a Judge of the Constitutional Court from August 2001 to the end of May 2002.
Skweyiya has held many positions in community organisations.
From 1963 to 1964, he was a member of the students’ representative council of the University of Natal. From 1971 to 1990 he was a member of the Committee of Clemency, which campaigned for political prisoners, people who were banned or under house arrest, and those in exile.
He was a legal adviser and member of the panel of advisers of SASO from 1973 to 1977, which was when SASO was declared an unlawful organisation.
In 1977 Skweyiya became the chairperson and a trustee of the Institute of Black Research, positions he still holds.
From 1979 to 1990 he was a member of the Mandela Committee. In 1980 he became the chairperson of the Association for Rural Development.
Skweyiya was a member of the President’s Advisory Committee of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa from 1981 to 1982 and was a trustee of the Black Lawyers’ Association Legal Education Centre from 1984 to 1990.
From 1985 to 1990 he was a member of the editorial board of the South African Journal on Human Rights.
Skweyiya has also held many positions in the world of business, for example:
- as the chairperson of Worldwide African Investment holding (Pty) Ltd, KFM Radio (Pty) Ltd and Zenex Oil Ltd;
- as the deputy chairperson of Fortune Beverages Ltd and the SA Tourism Board;
- as the director and vice-chairperson of Fasic Investment Ltd;
- as a director of Fedics Group Ltd, Lion Match (Pty) Ltd, Gold Circle Racing and Gaming, the Premier Group Ltd, Southern Bank of Africa Ltd; and
- as a member of the regional advisory board of Nedcor Bank KwaZulu-Natal.
He has also attended and participated in several local and international law conferences, and has spoken and presented papers at some of them.