Roger Scarlin Chennells

Roger Chennells

Founding Partner, Chennells Albertyn Attorneys 


As an attorney in private practice since 1980, Roger has practiced in a wide legal field ranging from labour, environmental, human rights to commercial and constitutional law.

The firm Chennells Albertyn, first formed in Durban, gained an early reputation as a specialist in labour law and human rights law in the early 1980s. The firm successfully interdicted and challenged the Government in its attempt to cede the Northern Zululand area of Ngwavuma to Swaziland in 1982, defeating the government in the Appeal Court.

Roger moved to the Cape and opened the Chennells Albertyn practice in Stellenbosch in 1984, again specialising in human rights law broadly defined.  Initially cases revolved around discrimination, police and state brutality, workplace discrimination, and rights of farmworkers. Over time this broadened to land and housing issues, as well as alternative dispute resolution. Many of the public interest cases conducted at the time, on behalf of indigent clients, were funded by international church groups or donors.

Roger became an experienced mediator and arbitrator, initially in labour matters, but increasingly in related cases involving environmental, commercial, agriculture and land reform issues.  Land tenure, particularly where the environmental is a core component, is an area of specialisation.

The rights of marginal groups is an ongoing area of interest. Roger commenced representing the rights of the =Khomani San people of the Northern Cape in 1992, which resulted in a complex final agreement involving co-management of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park in 2002. As a result of the case the approximately1000 Khomani San now enjoy hunting and gathering rights in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park as part of the negotiated management plan. In Botswana the management plan of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve was also negotiated over some years leading up to 2001, in which the rights of traditional San hunting communities to natural resources in the Park were agreed and formulated. During 2002m Roger was invited to visit and work for five months for the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal peoples of Southern Australia, (Traditional owners of Uluru) where he dealt with cultural ownership issues and facilitated a multiparty resource-allocation agreement with mining companies. In 2007 Roger assisted the International Rastafarian Council in Jamaica with conflict resolution between various competing “temples” of the religion, in order to achieve protection of their international intellectual property rights.

Finally Roger has assisted the San with traditional knowledge and heritage rights for over a decade. The rights of the San to the Hoodia succulent became a landmark case in 2003, where an appetite-suppressant patent was taken by the CSIR based on San TK. This led to the successful negotiation of further cases based upon the benefit sharing provisions of the CBD, such as the Sceletium, where the patent was on its known anti-depressant properties. An interest in benefit sharing combined with the San experience at the hands of genetic researchers led to his researching issues of benefit sharing, undue inducement and indigenous peoples rights, being awarded a PhD in 2014. This has led to ongoing work in the field of genomic research with the San, Khoi and other indigenous peoples.

Roger is a legal advisor to the South African San Institute (SASI), as well as to the Working Group of Indigenous Minorities in Southern Africa (WIMSA). He is a Founding Trustee and legal advisor to IPACC (Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee) Trust. The IPACC formed in 1997 in order to coordinate the international and human rights of indigenous peoples of Africa. Roger is also a Founding Trustee of the Centre for Rural Legal Studies in Stellenbosch.  

Roger's primary interest remains the exploration and promotion of law and human rights in practice, particularly with an emphasis on the rights and interests of indigenous peoples.                                             

(May 2014)