After more than six years in corporate law practice, Kameshrie Govender joined the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) in 2018 as a Senior Legal Advisor. Africa Legal’s Ifeoluwa Ogunbufunmi spoke to her.
At the DBSA, Govender is a legal specialist advisor in the international investment division, working on infrastructure projects across its four priority sectors — Energy, Transportation, Bulk Water and ICT, in Africa. Within these sectors, the DSBA typically participates as a financier on a project finance and structured finance basis.
Govender has always pursued autonomy in her career and the ability to lead her own project deals within a project team as the lead specialist, all of which is she doing now at the DBSA. She says good communication and collaboration within the team is key to working well and concluding successful projects.
Prior to joining the DBSA, she played an active role in corporate law practice as an Associate at two top law firms in South Africa— Webber Wentzel and White & Case LLP.
On how she manages to balance existing systems with commercial realities, she says, “When working for a development finance institution, like I do, managing reputational risk versus commercial appetite is critical to the decisions you make to invest in projects and conclude the legal documentation on all projects. The bank’s investment committee and/or Chief Risk Officer make the ultimate decisions in relation to risks, based on specialist recommendations from experts like myself.”
Govender works with a diverse clientele, depending on the sector in which the bank is participating as a financier. “Because of the funding conditions and technical construction monitoring we require from our clients, we tend to attract more experienced clients in large project and structured financing.”
Being a state-owned entity, the DBSA also finances sovereign governments across Africa on a project basis, local municipalities as well as other South African state-owned entities.
Every five years the DSBA issues requests for proposals to qualifying law firms to participate on its legal panel. The nature of the bank’s transactions typically requires legal advice related to foreign law (English law or French law) and an understanding of South African law.
Govender highlights her exposure to Africa, the learning opportunities from specialists across various disciplines and the impact of the projects financed by the bank, as some of the high points of her current role.
A recurring challenge, she says, can be the resistance to legal risk advice from some divisions within the bank which are client-facing. “In some instances, the perception may be that the legal risk division is diametrically opposed to concluding the project, which is certainly not the case”. This perception requires change.
Govender has lived all her life in South Africa, having been born and bred in Durban, one of the country’s biggest cities. She obtained her law degree and an LLM in Business Law from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, also in Durban.
Growing up next to the sea keeps Govender going back to her roots as often as she can especially to enjoy a good South African braai (barbecue) with friends and family.
She is multilingual (speaking French, Spanish and Portugese), and has been able to use the skills she has learned through the languages to build “an exciting and dynamic career”.
“I was always interested in pursuing a career which was fluid and incorporated a variety of disciplines, including law,” says Govender.
To young lawyers she says, “Be independent and keep a degree of autonomy. Stay savvy about commercial realities and understand how these realities impact your team and clients. Then you will have a highly-rewarding career ahead of you.”
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