Upholding the promise of South Africa’s constitution

Jackie Fry

By Jackie Fry

The Legal Resources Centre has a rich history of working toward social justice in South Africa. Founded following the 1979 student uprisings with fewer than 10 staff, they began by helping those arrested under apartheid-era pass laws. As the centre expanded, they began challenging forced removals and evictions, wrongful dismissals, consumer abuse, and other legal issues stemming from apartheid. Throughout the 1980s, as the government declared various states of emergency, the LRC exposed and challenged human rights abuses such as detention without trial, and torture, attempting to obtain justice for victims.

Fast forward to the 1990s: As apartheid began to crumble and a new, democratic South Africa was being built, the LRC assisted in drafting the Bill of Rights and the country’s new constitution. One of the most modern and progressive constitutions in the world, this new blueprint for the nation doesn’t just set out legal and political rights, but also socio-economic rights, which present a unique challenge – it’s all well and good to say that a person has a right not to be subject to cruel and unusual punishment, but what does it mean to have a right to education? What does that look like? How is that right realized?

Today, the LRC works to uphold the promise of the constitution, to ensure that the rights enshrined there are  more than words on a page. They understand that systemic barriers need to be removed in order for rights to be realized. As CBA interns, we have the opportunity to assist in this critical work, lending a hand in formulating, implementing and monitoring of litigation. The Makhanda LRC office in particular works toward fulfilling the promise of the right to education, enshrined in section 29 of the constitution. It has initiated class action lawsuits to force the government to properly fund transportation for students, who would otherwise have to walk hours to school each way. They assist in litigation to protect undocumented children, to make sure that an education is not reserved only for those who have a birth certificate. They hold government’s feet to the fire to make sure schools have enough furniture for students. Each of these victories helps to give substance to the right to education, which, as Nelson Mandela famously said, “is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that the son of a mine worker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation.”

Jackie Fry was called to the bar in 2015 in Alberta