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Keynote Address by the Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, the Hon JH Jeffery, MP, (as read on his behalf by Ms D Franzman of the DOJCD) on “Linkages between the achievement of Goal 16, Agenda 2030 and the National Development Plan in advancing the institutionalization of community advice offices in South Africa” at the 2017 Dullah Omar School, hosted by the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA), in partnership with the Social Change Assistance Trust (SCAT) and the National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (Nadcao), held at the Stay City Hotel, Berea, Johannesburg, on 22 October 2017

Programme Director,

Ladies and gentlemen, friends

This weekend 20 years ago, on the weekend of the 21st of October 1977, the world watched in shock as the international media ran reports on what had happened during that week in South Africa.

The Washington Post, in its article, wrote that the apartheid government had embarked “on a massive crackdown on dissent against its racial policies, banning 13 civil rights groups, shutting down two major black newspapers and arresting scores of black and white anti-apartheid leaders.”

It tells of how, unexpectedly, pre-dawn police action which included raids, arrests and other legal actions, continued throughout the day.

White university students led a protest march, but as they marched to a post office intending to send a protest telegram to the government, the police arrested 65 of them.

The Black People Convention and the Soweto Students Representative Council were banned.

Also among the banned organizations were the multiracial Christian Institute of South Africa, also the South African Students' Organization and the South African Students' Movement, the Black Parents Federation, the Black Womens Federation, the Black Community programs, the Union of Black Journalists; the Medupe Writers Association, and the Zimele Trust Fund.

Some 70 civil rights leaders and activists were detained and confined to their homes and South Africa's leading black newspaper, The World, was closed down and its editor, Percy Qoboza, was arrested.

Beyers Naude was also banned for five years. Other whites who sympathized with black campaigns for social and economic equality were banned, one of them Donald Woods, who was the outspoken anti-government editor of the East London Daily Dispatch.

The day it happened – Wednesday, 19 October – came to be known as Black Wednesday.

The apartheid government had an obsession with shutting down newspapers and banning people and organisations into silence – because they knew that if they could shut down the flow of information they could disempower people.

That is why we are today, in a constitutional democracy, passionate about providing our communities with information and opportunities to be able to participate in our democracy.

That is why our own National Development Plan places such a high emphasis on active citizenry and why it states that for the proposals in the plan to become a reality, all in South Africa must contribute and work towards realising the vision of a cohesive society.  It says that government needs citizens to speak out when things are going wrong.

It is very clear: Active citizenry and social activism is necessary for democracy and development to flourish. The state cannot merely act on behalf of the people – it has to act with the people, working together with other institutions to provide opportunities for the advancement of all communities. These sentiments are also echoed in the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular Goal 16 which calls for peace, justice and strong institutions.The SDG’s tell us that without peace, stability, human rights and effective governance, based on the rule of law, we cannot hope for sustainable development. It states that –

“We are living in a world that is increasingly divided. Some regions enjoy sustained levels of peace, security and prosperity, while others fall into seemingly endless cycles of conflict and violence. This is by no means inevitable and must be addressed.”

What are some of the specific aims of Goal 16?  It obliges all of us to -

  • Promote the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensure equal access to justice for all.
  • Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.
  • Ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.
  • Broaden and strengthen the participation of developing countries in the institutions of global governance, and
  • Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements.

Both the SDGs and the NDP emphasize empowered communities and active citizenry. There’s no doubt about it. The question, however, is how do we achieve that? One of the most effective ways to do this is through the use of community advice offices.

This is the Dullah Omar School and it’s no small coincidence that it was named after him, because if there was ever a champion of community advice offices and paralegals it was Dullah Omar.

As you may know, SIDA (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) was instrumental in assisting government in the early years of democracy in strengthening community advice offices.

In an old SIDA report that I happened to come across its says that community advice offices, or advice centres, as they were also known,

“…performed the function of promoting and extending a human rights culture, albeit under adverse conditions. The paralegals were frequently community activists, who while not being recognised as legally competent or certificated to formally represent their ‘clients in the courts, were nevertheless experienced and assisted in fighting for the limited human rights that were available at the time, continually pushing the boundaries of the few rights that were actionable.

Minister Dullah Omar… made specific reference for the need to support these advice offices and to build on their past work and existing direct relationships and access to communities. Support to the paralegal movement thus became one of the objectives and focal areas of the Programme.”

Today we have various programmes within Government aimed at providing support to both Community Based Paralegals and to the sustainability of CAOs.

Our Department’s Constitutional Development Branch provides, amongst others, participatory democracy programmes and one of the key projects under Participatory Democracy is to support the sustainability of CAOs and their service providers. 

Our Department has identified five key projects for supporting the sector. These include –

•          Outlining the role of the Department in supporting the sector;
•          Determining how the Department can provide financial contribution to the sector;
•          Assisting CAOs to build governing structures; 
•          Providing training to develop service provider’s skills in writing proposals, developing projects, managing budgets and office assets; and
•          Providing leadership training and opportunities to network.

The Department recognises that the services provided by CAOs contribute towards fulfilling its mandate to promote a just, equitable and democratic society, and that much of the services focus on ensuring that vulnerable communities have access to legal advice and assistance.

We are also looking at mechanisms of establishing a collaborative group of Departments which can work closely together to detail the strategic support that Government can provide to the sector.

The Department is exploring its role in supporting the sector, along with the roles that can be played by other Government Departments such as National Treasury, Social Development, Labour, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs and Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, including agencies such as Legal Aid South Africa, the Foundation for Human Rights and the South African Human Rights Commission.

The main challenge to CAOs and CBPs is, without a doubt, precarious financial circumstances.

The Department recognizes that funding for the sector has declined with the withdrawal of many foreign funders and the reduction of available funds. The Department currently funds about 100 CAOs with funds received from the European Union and which is channeled via the Foundation for Human Rights who implements the Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA) programme. The FHR administers two streams of funding CAOs.

The first stream provides direct funding to 85 CAOs. The second stream, under the human rights awareness programme, funds 100 CAOs to conduct rights awareness campaigns. The FHR provides R120 000 per annum to new advice offices and the contracts are renewable with a follow-up grant of R200 000 if the CAO has complied with all requirements.   Several CAOs are also being funded by the Department of Social Development under the Victim Support Programme. This funding is conducted through Provincial Departments. Although Legal Aid South Africa does not provide direct funding to CAOs, it provides back-up litigation support to 150 CAOs and supports NADCAO.

The Department’s database illustrates that there are currently 348 functioning CAOs in the country, with 150 or so of these being non-functional. In 2014 the Human Science Research Council conducted a cost-benefit study which concluded that government may require a budget of approximately R50 million per annum to adequately fund all CAOs. 

A meeting between our Department and National Treasury was held recently, on the 1st of September this year. Steps are being taken to find a way to address this need and the Department is currently working with the Donor Alliance, NADCAO and ACAOSA to explore funding approaches.

As you know, our Department is currently also focused on developing legislation for paralegals who work on a voluntary basis as CBPs in CAOs. This narrowed focus is as a result of the initial research being conducted and the fact that the sector is extremely broad. Many paralegals are salaried and employed in various sectors of the economy and are thus governed by their rules of employment.

By virtue of the important role the CAO’s play in communities accessing justice and that these services are unregulated, this segment of paralegals has been identified as a priority area for the development of policy and legislation.

A first draft Bill and draft Concept Paper have been developed. Most aspects contained in the Bill must, however, still be subjected to a thorough consultation process with the stakeholders.

This past Wednesday it’s been 40 years since Black Wednesday.  Our efforts since 1994 have gone an enormous way in eradicating the legacy of our tragic past and creating a participatory democracy. We’ve rolled out human rights awareness progress and constitutional education initiatives. Most people in our country now know what an imbizo is.Processes such as public participation when we make laws have become standard procedure.  In short, we know, without a doubt, that we must empower our communities for sustainable democracy. When I meet community based paralegals and persons who work or volunteer in community advice offices, I’m always reminded of the words of Nelson Mandela when he said:

“As a young man I decided to study law with a view to using what talent I had in the service of justice and the cause of my people.”

Thank you for using your talent, your skill and your passion in the service of our people.

Government can never reach where you can reach – you are there, on the ground, in our communities where things happen – therefore you are our strongest partners in empowering our communities and ensuring a sustainable democracy.

I thank you.