Sitting in a sixth-floor boardroom in a building that is along one of the busiest roads in Sandton – with a view of the some of the most expensive properties on the continent – this is where one of the best mergers and acquisitions lawyers on the continent conducts business and plans to plot his grand plan to change and transform the country’s legal fraternity for good.
In 2014, Peter Tshisevhe was rated the best mergers and acquisitions lawyer in Africa and one of the best in the world by the internationally peer-reviewed Best Lawyer’s International listing, in 2015 the Association of Black Securities and Investment Professionals named him the best corporate finance lawyer in the country.
The chairperson and co-founder of Tshisevhe Gwina Ratshimbilani Incorporated (TGR Attorneys), Tshisevhe’s story is one of rags to riches, but unlike many such tales, his was fuelled by an unusual ambition for the unknown and engineered by exposure.
“Exposure is everything.” This is a mantra Tshisevhe lives by and one that keeps his inquisitive mind flooded with ambitious plans.
He admits that being from a very poor family of 11 siblings in the poverty-stricken village of Tshakhuma, he was only exposed to professions such as teaching and nursing, but says he always knew there was something beyond what he was exposed to.
“Even without being exposed to doctors, I knew that as much as teaching was the ultimate, there were professions such as doctors beyond teaching, and I knew that that person was more important in terms of stature because it seemed everyone went to them when they were sick. I knew there was more and beyond and that’s where I wanted to be. I was not sure exactly where, just somewhere higher,” he said of his ambitions as a child.
Abject poverty is something Tshisevhe is very familiar with. He owned his first pair of shoes when he was 16 years old.
“I have always been of the view that the one way out of poverty is through education,” he said.
He fondly remembers the nickname his mother gave him because of his excellence at school.
“She gave me the nickname ‘Principal’ because she saw me in that light and to her it was the highest level, but I had other ideas,” he said.
Ironically, though he never had ambitions of being a teacher, Tshisevhe subsequently had a 12year stint as a part-time lecturer at his alma mater, the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).
While being a teacher was never an option for Tshisevhe growing up, law was also not his first choice, but having witnessed the injustices of racism and tribalism as a child, he found himself drawn to the profession of law when later in life he found out about it from a friend.
Schooled at Luvhulani and Raluthaga primary schools in the former homeland of Venda, Tshisevhe speaks with pride as he reminisces about going to school under a tree. He went on to matriculate at Mavhungu Andries High School, also in the area, before heading south to Johannesburg where, before enrolling for his BProc degree, he had to upgrade his matric results at a private college.
At Wits he found the exposure he had been longing for, and as a disciplined village herdboy, he managed to stay focused on his studies while also working his way up from cleaner to cashier at a supermarket chain store.
His tone changes and he flashes a smile when he talks about his student days at Wits. It’s an institution he holds very dear, after all, his first legal job was at the Wits Law Clinic after he was offered articles by two prominent lawyers – exploitative offers he refused.
In the legal fraternity, he has earned a lot of respect but admits transformation is still a huge issue.
“We want to be a game-changer, a haven for black excellence,” he says about TGR Attorneys, which he cofounded with Sandanathi Gwina and Matodzi Ratshimbilani.
Speaking about the sector’s current state with regard to briefing patterns that disadvantage black lawyers, the SAA board member said government must start practising what it preaches.
“Government will talk radical economic transformation and go on and hire a white company to clean,” Tshisevhe said.
Being one of the best commercial law brains in the country, it’s easy to see why he has a good chance of plotting the change the legal sector desperately needs, and it’s a mission he readily tackles every day.