In Pursuit of Equality in South Africa

Introduction

LRC’s Equality and Non-discrimination Project

Janet Love, National Director

 

The Legal Resources Centre was established in 1979 with the primary aim of using the law as an instrument of justice for South Africa’s marginalised and under-resourced populations. Within the troubling legacy of apartheid, the LRC continues to work towards three overarching objectives – equality, democracy and development – to foster enduring, sustainable progress through engaging in the gamut of social and economic justice issues. The organisation works as a public interest law firm delivering outcomes primarily via client-based litigation. However, particularly since the consolidation of the LRC’s regional and global programmes, we have increased our research output and participated in formal advocacy initiatives.

Our offices are located in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Grahamstown, and Durban, but we operate satellite offices in order to provide wider access to justice in rural communities in Limpopo, Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Eastern Cape. Members of LRC’s staff – including attorneys, paralegals, support staff, and grant officers – have dedicated themselves to addressing pressing human rights issues in today’s complex socio-economic and cultural context. Guided by fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, the organisation has committed to intersecting perspectives on existing challenges and, therefore, to a multidimensional approach to finding the answers. To this end, LRC’s operations are subdivided into focus areas in pursuit of various related objectives.

The right to equality before the law is written into the South African Constitution as a founding principle and fundamental value. Taken broadly, as part of LRC’s comprehensive outlook on the meaning of a safe and liberated community, this right encompasses an array of social and economic components. There remain significant and pressing gaps in the realisation of these goals throughout the country and LRC’s Equality and Non-Discrimination (END) focus area has worked staunchly to remedy them since its inception. The END Project has worked to promote these values through creative and effective strategic combinations of litigation, advocacy, development, education, and networking. Thus far, the project has made diverse contributions to the development of jurisprudence on the issue.

This publication will provide insight into some of the work in which the END Project has been involved, and will reflect on the role of the LRC in upholding the fundamental constitutional rights to equality and non-discrimination. The project has made headway over its years in securing aspects of gender parity. Women’s socio-economic rights are particularly critical to this goal; these incorporate but are not limited to the right to adequate healthcare, to suitable housing, and to live without fear of unlawful eviction. LRC’s work has also prioritised the rights of women in traditional communities and the issue of widespread violence against women – often interrelated and both central to the realisation of gender equality. The goals of ending child marriages, confronting domestic violence, and regulating harmful customary practices all fall under this objective. This publication will also cover some of the END Project’s contributions to advancing children’s rights, including the right for all children to quality education and adequate community resources and to ensure equal opportunities for success across lines of class and ethnic background. The equal rights of sexual and gender minorities, while enshrined in the Constitution, remain difficult to achieve in a cultural and social context that commonly sees harassment, discrimination and violence against LGBTI individuals go unchecked. Recent END Project work has centered on the rights of transgender and intersex persons, two groups that have long been neglected in the fight against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This book will also summarize progress made with respect to the rights of refugees and asylum seekers – particularly those marginalised and made most vulnerable because of their gender, age, sexual identity and status, or disability. LRC has worked tirelessly to keep refugee offices open, stop unlawful detentions of migrants, secure social grants for asylum seekers and refugees with special needs, and to oblige the Department of Home Affairs to fulfil obligations to protect vulnerable migrants from volatile situations and threats to their security in their countries of origin. Throughout the book, lawyers, researchers and candidate attorneys who have participated in the END Project’s work will identify key strategies in research, impact litigation, and advocacy used to empower and protect these groups.

The END Project continues to foster internal dialogue to assess and determine the ideal role for the LRC in our ongoing fight for Constitutional rights. Our work is made possible because of the determination and commitment of our clients, and the solidarity and support we receive from partner organisations in and outside of South Africa. We are deeply thankful for their roles in the change we seek. While LRC has been pivotal in many human rights breakthroughs since its establishment, we recognise that the context in which we work requires continual initiative on our part and an on-going quest for new ideas. Human rights challenges abound throughout South Africa and a significant amount of work remains in the realm of equality and non-discrimination. We continue to be up to the challenge – to work towards realising the promises of equality, democracy and development and of supporting those who need it most. We hope you enjoy this window into our work.