The Chairperson and Board of Trustees of SCAT
Ladies and gentlemen, friends
Good afternoon – it is a great honour to be part of these celebrations this afternoon.
I came across a publication by Barry Streek from 1983 where he listed all the various organisations working in rural areas at the time.
In the introduction, he writes that the majority of South Africans, about 54%, live in, and I quote “areas which have variously been described as 'reserves', 'bantustans', 'homelands' or 'black national states'.”
He continues and says:
“The overwhelming majority of these people survive in grim poverty. Outside the homelands, but still in the rural areas, there are many people whose lives are also characterised by a struggle for survival.
One of the major challenges facing South Africa today is that of poverty and what should be done about it. The long-term solution lies in the distribution of resources - in the nature of political and economic power. However, there are a number of organisations in the rural areas trying to do what they can within the political and economic realities of today.
They are often in remote areas where isolation makes communication with groups and people difficult.
They are often desperately short of money, technical expertise and other resources. But they, whatever their strategies, are trying to do something about rural poverty in South Africa.”
He then proceeds to list all the different organisations, their contact persons and what they do.
And the range of the listed activities is vast – improving farming methods, water development projects, promoting race relations, giving bursaries, rural development, art and beadwork, day care centres for children, feeding schemes, sewing projects, educating the children of farm workers, vegetable garden schemes, adult literacy, training community workers, and the promotion of justice and democracy.
The organisations range from tiny and often unknown – like a few so-called “mini-crèches” and small child care centres, like one in Balasi, which is 8km from King William’s Town – to bigger and well-known, like the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, Black Sash and the Red Cross.
Like so many of those organisations which functioned 36 years ago, our Community Advice Offices – or CAOs for short – continue to work tirelessly to make social justice a reality.
Today, Community Advice Offices fill a gap in promoting access to justice in South Africa by providing services that contribute to social justice and facilitate access to government services for the poor and marginalised.
Community-based paralegals working within these offices provide the support and front-line assistance to many who do not have the means to access other forms of legal or advice services.
Poverty, unemployment and inequality remain an existential threat to South Africa’s democracy. As demonstrated by the 2018 Foundation for Human Rights’ SEJA Baseline Survey on Constitutional Awareness, higher levels of poverty are associated with lower levels of awareness of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
We know that access to constitutional rights is not enjoyed equally by all.
Very few people can afford the fees of private legal practitioners or they live in rural or deep rural areas where law firms or other bodies offering legal services are not present or easily accessible.
This results in a very real lack of access to justice for vulnerable and marginalised groups, particularly in remote, rural or peri-urban areas.
CAOs, including community-based paralegals, fill this vital gap by delivering a wide range of cost-effective – often free of charge - social justice and legal services and in doing so, provide invaluable assistance in ensuring access to justice.
CAOs not only need to know how to assist those whose rights have been infringed or where to refer those who have been denied government services, but very often, they must act as a “one-stop-shop” for general advice on a myriad of issues.
In one of the older SCAT publications, there is a piece called “Reflections of a field worker” and it reads -
“As I visit advice offices, clients flock in their multitudes from all walks of life, with one thing in mind, a great need for relief from their socio-economic plight. In certain instances I would sit there, observe, discover and be amazed as I began to realise what is reported to the advice offices and what they are also facing on a daily basis in households.
Paralegals use their knowledge and energy every day, emancipating people from the shackles of the vicious cycles of poverty, but when they go back home, they face the same poverty and enter the same vicious cycle of poverty.”
So what are we, as government, doing to assist in regulating and strengthening the CAO sector?
I would argue that there are three main issues that we need to focus on, namely the regulation of the CAO sector, the regulation of community-based paralegals and the long-term financial sustainability of the CAO sector.
The funding for CAOs has decreased significantly in the last five years, due in part to the withdrawal of international donors.
Whereas funding for CAOs is diverse in nature, involving both government and private sources, it is often short-term and insecure, and in many instances does not even cover core operational costs.
As a result of the 2018 merger between the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA) and National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO), the Centre for the Advancement of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (CAOSA) was established, yet we know that mobilizing resources remains an ongoing challenge.
Other aspects that require further attention is a lack of formal accountability mechanisms for the CAOs and community-based paralegals as well as an absence of standardised training.
Taking all of these aspects into consideration, we are currently working on a draft Policy Paper which will encapsulate our commitment to regulate the Community Based Advice Office sector.
It will be presented at a national consultative workshop for the CAO sector and other stakeholders and will be followed by a White Paper.
In 2018 our Department requested the Foundation for Human Rights, as our implementing partner for the EU-funded Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA) Programme, to assist us with the reinvigoration of the regulation process.
This resulted in the development of a Discussion Document on the future of the CAO sector in South Africa.
The Discussion Document was the subject of broad national and provincial consultations held between April and June 2019 and inputs and recommendations from these consultations have been collated and incorporated in the draft Policy Paper.
We are of the view that although the political, social and economic context has led to a higher demand for CAO services, the lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework has resulted in serious challenges within the CAO sector.
In light of CAOs’ positive contribution to access to justice in South Africa and in order to address the challenges they are facing, consideration should be given to the CAO sector and community-based paralegals being regulated in terms of legislation.
We are of the view that the regulation of the sector will have a number of advantages such as –
We would propose that the CAO sector and community-based paralegals should be regulated in terms of legislation through so-called “co-regulation” which combines elements of self-regulation with the support - including but not limited to financial support - and participation from government.
Co-regulation envisages that government establishes the CAO governance structure through legislation and includes some critical regulatory provisions, whilst leaving the detailed regulatory framework to the CAO governing body.
As Janet Love of the Legal Resources Centre and former Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission, once remarked:
“There is immense value in Community Advice Offices; their role is profound. They help to advance democracy and are places where people are known and trusted.
They have networks, contacts and are best suited to facilitate community consultation, discuss issues of development and encourage public participation.”
Given their immense value, it is imperative that government supports the sector where we can.
In this regard, I know that many of you are also interested in the Programme for Legal Empowerment and Access to Justice (PLEAJ).
PLEAJ is a 3-year pilot project, granted in terms of General Budget Support funding through the EU, to our Department in partnership with the Centre for the Advancement of Community Advice Offices in SA (CAOSA).
The project was meant to kick off in April this year, but due to certain internal processes involving amendments to the business plan - to ensure that the bulk of the funding goes directly towards supporting participating CAOs to provide ongoing delivery of services - there have unfortunately been some delays.
Its overall objective is to assist Government in eradicating poverty, promoting inclusive growth, and improving access to justice to vulnerable and marginalised, and particularly rural, communities.
There are three specific outcomes that we want to achieve, namely that vulnerable and marginalized communities in all provinces, especially in rural areas, have increased access to functional Community Advice Offices.
Secondly, that targeted CAOs have access to capacity building and other support interventions that improve their ability to deliver services to their target group, and thirdly, that the long-term financial and operational sustainability of the CAO sector is ensured.
PLEAJ aims to support the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s policy on equal access to justice and will act as a pre-requisite for socio-economic empowerment and poverty alleviation.
Over the 36-month duration of the project, PLEAJ will capacitate and empower CAOs in selected areas to provide justice services and to engage with communities to educate them about their constitutional rights and accessing services to enable economic empowerment.
It will implement programmes to improve the operational and administrative capacity of CAOs and support the long-term development and sustainability of the sector through the development of appropriate financial and operational models.
PLEAJ builds on the sound foundations of a number of long-term interventions to support access to justice among vulnerable and marginalised communities.
These include the Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights (AJPCR) and the Socio-Economic Justice for All (SEJA) programmes.
Both programmes were funded by the European Union and had substantial focus on supporting the CAO sector. In particular, the AJPCR programme focused on the re-establishment of 50 dormant CAOs, while the SEJA programme provided on-going support to 85 CAOs.
In addition to PLEAJ, and in view of the importance of the work by Community Advice Offices, Legal Aid SA concluded a Memorandum of Understanding with the Association of Community Advice Offices of South Africa (ACAOSA - the predecessor to COASA), whereby Legal Aid SA renders back up legal services to the clients of the Advice Offices where legal representation is required.
Ladies and gentlemen,
As we celebrate 35 years of SCAT, I want to commend SCAT for the important work it is doing. As you know, the Social Change Assistance Trust is one of the longest existing funding intermediaries for advice offices.
We wholeheartedly share SCAT’s views that advice offices do not only play the role of delivering paralegal services, but are also agents of democracy and development in their communities.
That is why SCAT has long referred to community based advice offices as local development agencies (LDAs), as LDAs play a transformative role in communities.
They monitor local government service delivery, advocate for the fair allocation of resources and services in communities, monitor social security pay points and identify discrepancies in social grant payments.
Some LDAs also manage programmes on behalf of government such as home based care programmes, Extended Public Works Programmes, crèches and food gardens.
I also want to congratulate SCAT on the book that it is launching to commemorate this historic celebration. The book is called Rural Voice II: 35 stories for 35 years.
I think all of us here know Barry Streek, but perhaps for those who don’t know him that well, Barry was a founding trustee of SCAT and convenor of the Trust.
He was a renowned member of NUSAS and a highly respected political journalist who worked for many years for the Daily Dispatch, Cape Times and the Mail & Guardian.
He was part of the Parliamentary Press gallery for 25 years and became Parliament’s media manager in 2001. He sadly passed away in 2006.
I am informed that SCAT will be honouring Barry’s legacy with the Barry Streek Awards where recipients will receive R10, 000 to spend on a local development initiative of their choice.
The seven categories are: Resilience, Fundraising Incentive Scheme, Youth Empowerment, Gender and Women Empowerment, Community Involvement, Food Security, and Governance and Management.
We are also looking forward to the opening of the Commemorative Garden in his honour.
All of us who knew Barry knows how very proud he would have been, if he were here today. When I think of Barry, I inevitably think of a quote by Martin Luther King, who said:
“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies,
education and culture of their minds,
and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.”
I know Barry would agree. And I want to wish SCAT all the best for another highly successful 35 years.I thank you.