Impact SA

The law doesn’t always equate to justice


Access to social justice in South Africa is significantly impeded by high levels of poverty and low legal literacy.  This combined with a myriad of barriers, impedes South Africans’ from fully accessing justice.

This was one of the key issues discussed at Hlanganisa’s Toka! (meaning justice in Setswana), convening that sought to explore how justice can be framed more holistically. The event took place in Johannesburg on 29th June 2023.

Bongiwe Ndondo – CEO of Hlanganisa
Ditebogo Ncube – Letlhabile Community Advice office
Shiela Matsondota – CAOSA (Community Advice Office South Africa)

The stark inequalities currently existent in South Africa limits access to opportunities available to households in already underserved communities such as peri-urban settlements, rural areas and other historically disadvantaged areas.  In addition, horizontal inequities and sociocultural barriers affect the quality of services for those in pursuit of justice. The needs of vulnerable groups are often not taken into account during the various steps on navigating through formal processes designed to facilitate for justice such as reporting cases of assault at police station, facilitating for accessibility and presentation of evidence in a court room.

“We have a very solid justice system in South Africa, but often it is marginalized groups who don’t experience the full extent of this justice, with women with disabilities being one such group,” says Chiedza Chagutah, Senior Manager: Development & Knowledge Management at Hlanganisa Community Fund for Social and Gender Justice.

“The ideals enshrined in the constitution of South Africa assumes that the law and the formal justice system is accessible to every citizen in the country. Yet in reality, we see that this is not what is happening on the ground,” says Chagutah.

Chiedza Chagutah – Senior Manager: Programme Development and Knowledge Management · Hlanganisa Community Fund for Social & Gender Justice

Many of these challenges are contended with on the ground by organisations and structures working in underserved communities to try and bridge that gap, “a gap facilitated and enabled by institutional failures within the justice system itself,” she says.

“An important conversation needs to be had about what the other justice processes or mechanisms are that can be explored, especially given that our courts are inundated and the NPA is already struggling with the number of cases that they need to deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Chagutah says.

It is here that community-based paralegals play a critical role in terms of being an entry point for communities who would otherwise not be able to engage or interface with the formal justice system.

It is out of recognition of the work of community-based paralegals that Hlanganisa has rolled out The Sisterhood Advocates Project in partnership with the Social Employment Fund. Hlanganisa is one 28 strategic implementing partners contributing towards common good through innovative approaches. In this project, Hlanganisa implements the project in partnership with 38 community advice offices to strengthen grassroots responses for violence against women and children. Over 3000 unemployed women received GBV specialised paralegalism training as first responders in their communities, to support survivors to lay charges with the police, apply for protection orders or maintenance orders and referrals to domestic violence shelters and other services when needed.

Teresa Yates – National Director of ProBono.Org.
Dr Moyo Nkosana – Mandela Institute for Development Studies

“A critical point to consider is the trust that community-based paralegals have within their communities, the important role they play in bridging the gap when it comes to accessing justice as well as bridging the trust deficit, between communities and the formal justice system,” she says.

“In acknowledging the barriers to accessing the justice system, we need to recognise that somebody has been picking up the slack because of inefficiencies in our justice system and that has been civil society organisations,” Chagutah says.

Civil society organizations play a crucial role in addressing the barriers to access justice in South Africa. “By partnering with the government, civil society stakeholders can advocate for policy reforms, raise awareness about the challenges faced by marginalized groups, provide support services to victims, and hold institutions accountable. Collaboration between civil society and the government can lead to more effective and inclusive justice systems that prioritize the needs of all citizens,” she says.

Hlanganisa Community Fund for Social and Gender Justice recognises the importance of providing access to justice for all communities, and the need to have both proximity to these communities and to simplify complex processes makes them a strategic entry point.

“It is important that the Department of Justice and other stakeholders within the justice system acknowledge this work and what organisations on the ground are doing to bridge that gap, and that the government provide the necessary financial support to enable more South Africans to interface with the justice system in a more productive way,” Chagutah says.

Prof Barney Pityana Board, renowned activist and academic currently serving as the Chair of the National Lotteries Commission presented the keynote address pointing to the need for a justice system that pursues human dignity and equity. An expert panel withEveristo Benyera, Professor of African Politics at UNISA; Lebo Ramafoko, Executive Director at Oxfam South Africa and Board Chairperson at Hlanganisa; Teresa Yates, National Director of ProBono.Org. as well as Dr Nkosana Moyo from Mandela Institute for Development Studies explored what how justice could be framed in today’s society.

The event concluded with an award ceremony for the Sisterhoods Advocate Project an awards ceremony presented by Hlanganisa CEO, Bongiwe Ndondo, SEF Programme Manager Bhavanesh Parbhoo and Community Advice Offices South Africa (CAOSA) Operations Manager Sheila Matsondota and attended by other stakeholders, to celebrate the vital work done by over 2600 community-based paralegals popularly known in their communities as “aboPinky”.


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