Alexandra community benefits from constitutional law and human rights training

August 1st, 2012

By Nomfundo Manyathi

Fourteen Alexandra community members have graduated after completing a five-month programme on constitutional law and human rights. The graduation ceremony was held at law firm ENS’s pro bono office in Alexandra on 21 June.

The graduation ceremony was attended by Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Andries Nel, who was a guest speaker, and former Constitutional Court Justice Johann Kriegler.

The Constitutional Court Clerks Alumni Association (CCCAA) launched the initiative to raise awareness about the Constitution and targeted Alexandra as one of the communities that could benefit from such a project. The CCCAA partnered with ENS to present the course. Select non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Alexandra were invited to participate in the programme in order to empower them in constitutional matters in the community.

According to CCCAA representative, Kim Robinson, who was also one of the course facilitators, the programme was a ‘first of its kind’ in South Africa. She said that its objectives included –

  • nation building;
  • achieving a paradigm shift from one of entitlement to one of responsible citizenship;
  • encouraging analytical approaches to learning material;
  • understanding what it means to be a citizen in a constitutional democracy;
  • constitutional development; and
  • knowledge of how rights can be realised.

Course topics included the making of the Constitution, access to justice, access to information and socio-economic rights and crime.

The students were also required to read, among others, the Constitution, the Communist Manifesto, the Freedom Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and various judgments of the Constitutional Court.

ENS pro bono coordinator Lindie Saunderson told De Rebus that originally 21 participants were selected to participate in the course; however, seven did not complete it because they could not keep up with the demands of the programme.

Deputy Minister Nel congratulated the graduates and said that the course had established a basis for networking among NGOs and had helped build a human rights culture in the Alexandra community. In addition, it had assisted participants to define their role in a constitutional democracy.

The Deputy Minister noted that the Justice Department had partnered with the Foundation for Human Rights to support civil society organisations working in the justice and human rights sector through the Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights Programme.

He said that the programme, with the financial support of the European Union, sought to address areas such as –

  • improved access to justice for vulnerable and marginalised groups;
  • improved awareness and knowledge of constitutional rights; and
  • enhanced participatory democracy through public policy dialogue and strengthening civil society organisations.

Deputy Minister Nel said that the overall objective of the programme was to contribute to the strengthening of democracy by improving access to justice and promoting constitutional rights through civil society organisations. The targeted communities and beneficiaries of the programme included women, poor communities and child-headed households. He added that some of the challenges that the programme sought to address included –

  • protecting and promoting the rights of the elderly, the disabled, children and women, refugees and asylum seekers; and
  • enhancing access to justice for the poor.

In her speech, Ms Saunderson, said that a lack of awareness of the content in, and power of, the Constitution was a barrier to many people gaining access to the justice system. She said that the graduates had become the Alexandra community’s informal mediators and sources of information related to the Constitution. She added that the course had allowed graduates to experience a paradigm shift in thinking as they had re-examined their ideas about the Constitution and government policies.

Ms Robinson said that it had been a ‘privilege’ to be involved in the participants’ learning process. She said that the programme included practical and theoretical training to empower leaders in the community to inspire change.

One of the graduates, Keith Nthite, told De Rebus that he was proud of himself for having participated in the programme. He added: ‘For my NGO, which is in the education sector, the programme has given us more capacity in terms of being a watchdog for the Alexandra community in matters dealing with the violation of human rights.’

Another graduate, Beverley Shekwalakwala, told De Rebus that it had been ‘an incredible journey’ throughout the five months and that she had learnt a ‘tremendous amount’ about the Constitution. She added: ‘I feel very excited … and I am feeling empowered. The Constitution … opens up your mind to greater and bigger things. Ms Shekwalakwala said that the next step was to inform her community about what she had learnt.

The CCCAA and ENS plan to make the programme an annual one and are aiming for 50 participants in 2013.

Nomfundo Manyathi,

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2012 (Aug) DR 6.