Zuko Nonxuba

International Arbitration Lawyer

Zuko Nonxubo is an International Arbitration Lawyer from Sandton, South Africa. The purview of his duties includes giving evidence and expert legal opinion on international public law, investment law, and bilateral investment treaties between member states in international tribunals, such as the International Centre for Settlement and Investment Disputes (ICSID).

As a young man, Zuko excelled in academics and athletics, competing in both cycling and soccer. In 1998, he earned a Baccalaureus Procurationis (BProc), which is a four-year undergraduate degree specific to South Africa designed for those who seek to practice as attorneys. He then proceeded to obtain a Certificate in Commercial Law in 2002, a Post-Graduate Diploma in International Commercial Law in 2019, and an LLM, or Master of Law degree in International Commercial Law from Salford University in Manchester, United Kingdom in 2020.

These days, Zuko Nonxubo is a third party litigation funder. He is currently involved in the funding of one of the biggest international arbitrations being adjudicated in the International Court of Arbitration (also known as the Permanent Court of Arbitration, or PCA) whose headquarters are in the Peace Palace in The Hague, Netherlands. The PCA is an intergovernmental organization providing a variety of dispute resolution services to international parties from around the world.

Additionally, Zuko Nonxubo has given speeches in the East Africa International Conference on international arbitration, as well as the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and the Africa Conference on International Arbitration, which is an institution for the resolution of international Commercial Disputes. Zuko is a member of International Council for Commercial Arbitration (ICCA) and an associate member of Chartered Institute of Arbitrators (CIArb) in North America.

In his spare time, Zuko enjoys cycling. He often competes on Zwift, a popular multiplayer online cycling and physical training program that enables users to interact, train, and compete in a virtual world.

Where did the idea for your career come from?

It came from an old advocate that I remember particularly fondly. We met many, many years ago while he was involved in a commercial arbitration matter. He approached me and asked if I would like to work in that field, and he offered to guide me in my career if I did so. Because of his counsel, I discovered I was very much interested in commercial arbitration, and I’ve been practicing it ever since.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

On a typical day, I wake up early. I’m very passionate about cycling, so I train on a stationary bike for an hour or so each morning. After showering and eating breakfast, I head into work. Once there, my day often varies. Sometimes I have to take care of office work, and sometimes I need to leave the office to work with clients. After all that, I return home fairly late.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I try to focus and be consistent in my professional behavior. If I have an idea, I try to implement it and make it real using all my effort and intellect, as well as every resource at my disposal. If the idea fails, then it fails, but I always make sure to give it my all, so I regret nothing.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I find my field of expertise to be very mentally stimulating. It’s a pretty new sector in which to practice law, so there are always new developments. Whenever I check my email, my phone messages, my Whatsapp, or even websites dedicated to international commercial arbitration, there’s almost always new information about the latest judgments or new cases dealing with unexplored areas of existing law. It’s the constant updates that I find both fascinating and exciting.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

As I always say, it’s my heartbeat that tells me what to do. I’m extremely regimented and consistent about my cycle training. I suppose I’m what you might call passionate about cycling. I love the motivation and the feeling that I get after a rigorous session. I can’t even describe how good it feels. After finishing, I may be tired, but it’s a good kind of tired. Generally speaking, it’s that morning exercise that clears my mind before I go to work. Whether the day is good or bad can be determined by how I feel, and I find cycling is critical to making me feel good. It’s a vital part of attaining balance for me.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would tell my younger self not to be as naive, if at all possible. I see my son growing up, and I see how much he looks like me, and I think to myself: ‘I hope he’s not as naive as I was when I was his age.’

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

The state can be abused and manipulated by those seeking power. One example would be the influence that some people have over the media. If you take news items on the internet and in the newspaper at face value and believe them to be the truth without applying critical thinking, it often serves the machinations of those seeking power. Perhaps they own a media outlet, or are friends with someone who does, and want the public to see a story from a certain point of view that serves their own dubious purposes. People need to actually analyze the news and realize that the facts are not so clear in many cases, and that news stories are often skewed. Don’t always trust what you read.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Work hard. There is no substitute for it. Sometimes there are days when it’s difficult and you’re unsure whether whatever you’re working on is going to succeed. Yet, the best, and sometimes only, thing you can do is consistently work hard. Once again, there is no substitute for it.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

One strategy that has helped me to grow my business has been to look at the trends of the market—to anticipate what will happen in three month’s time judging by what is going on at the present. Sometimes I see a downward trend and I ask myself, “How do I avoid this? How am I going to readjust my strategy?” I’ve done that a number of times, which has led me to study new fields of work. For example, I might need to change my focus in an arbitration case depending on certain market trends. So, taking the time to analyze those trends and be introspective about them is very valuable.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I have had, in the past, a number of people that I had to sever ties with. I’ve learned a lot about human nature when that has happened—especially when it comes to figuring out who are the right people to employ in my practice. I didn’t always hire the right kind of people; people that I felt were compatible with what I was trying to accomplish. Then, I would inevitably grow attached, and when I ultimately had to let them go, it made me realize I needed to be more considerate to both myself and to them.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

One idea I’ve discovered is called a third party funding litigation. It’s a recent trend, but it’s something I’d like to see more people try because it’s a lot like running your own practice, but with fewer obligations. It’s more like investing in litigation in order to reap the returns upon the success of that litigation.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

My mother used to say that there is nothing that gives you more joy and happiness than to spread what you have to others, especially to those less fortunate. You don’t need to give a lot, but knowing that what you do give makes a difference in the long term creates a feeling of peace that is hard to come by these days.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

A piece of software that I’ve used recently is one to help translate work-related documents into different languages. Considering that a lot of the documentation that I work with is in Arabic, which can be very difficult to read, it makes a huge difference.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

I read Will by Will Smith last December. It’s a very inspirational book because it deals with the issues he’s had to deal with in his personal life and his career. When you look at the people we call celebrities, we think they don’t have hardships because they seem to live in another world, but that’s not always the case.

What is your favorite quote?

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” — Nelson Mandela

Key Learnings:

  • There is no substitute for hard work.
  • When hiring, be very careful to make sure new employees are compatible with what you want to accomplish.
  • Nothing brings more joy and happiness than giving to those less fortunate, even if it’s only a little bit.