Socio-Economic Rights Advocacy in South Africa’s Eastern Cape
I am one of the two Oxford Human Rights Hub/Rhodes University Travelling Fellows for this year. This is the first year of the fellowship, and the second fellow will be travelling down at the start of 2017. The Fellowship is a partnership between the Oxford Human Rights Hub, Rhodes University in South Africa, and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), a pre-eminent South African public interest law firm. It will enable two Oxford graduate students a year to travel to Grahamstown, a town in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, for six months to jointly intern at the LRC and research at the Rhodes Law Faculty. I will be blogging for the OxHRH throughout my time in Grahamstown about my experiences at the LRC and the Rhodes Law Faculty.
I am now into my second week of the fellowship. I am spending the first two weeks working full-time at the LRC, as the research which I am planning to undertake here is closely related to the area of law which they specialise in. After this week I will be spending more time at the faculty, probably one or two days a week, with the rest at the LRC.
The LRC is a fascinating place to intern. This is my first internship at a human rights firm, and in the space of the last week I was working on cases regarding issues as varied as hate speech legislation, prisoners’ rights, and the rights to protest balanced against the right to education. I attended an ongoing case in which the rights of SADTU, the South African Democratic Teachers Union, to take industrial action was having to be balanced against the conflicting constitutional rights of the teachers’ pupils to education. After having studied the right to education cases in my Comparative Human Rights class in Oxford last year, it was great to be able to witness litigation first-hand that has the potential to further develop the case-law in this area.
While the LRC take on both civil-political and socio-economic rights cases, my main focus of interest is in their socio-economic rights litigation. The South African model of protecting rights to education and housing through court action interests me because it diverges so markedly from the British approach of viewing socio-economic rights concerns as presumptively injusticiable. My internship at the LRC provides a great opportunity to explore this contrast, and analyse the pros and cons of this alternative approach to ensuring adequate service provision.
The Eastern Cape is South Africa’s poorest province, and consequently there is no shortage of pressing human rights issues, particularly relating to access to basic resources. The LRC have been at the forefront in vindicating the right to education by bringing suits against the state for failing to provide the necessities for teaching, including teachers’ pay, and appropriate classroom facilities such as tables and chairs. I plan to use my research time at Rhodes University to pursue my interest in this area of law. I will explore whether class action suits, as the LRC pursued in Linkside v Minister for Education are preferable to public interest litigation, such as Madzodzo v Minister for Education, also an LRC case, in regards the remedies which these forms of litigation deliver for the school involved. In this way, the internship side of the fellowship will be directly informing the research side.
I will be blogging for the OxHRH throughout my time in Grahamstown of my experiences at the LRC and the Rhodes Law Faculty. While I have been here for less than ten days, I have already found my experience in Grahamstown greatly rewarding, and am looking forward to spending the next six months further exploring the fascinating subject of South African human rights law.