The Family House Project – forward we go!

The Family House Project – forward we go!

By Tshenolo Masha

Our collaboration with Dr Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham and the UK Social Research Council) on the Family House concept continues.

Following the launch of the Position Paper in July 2018, a public consultation was held to get feedback on the research from members of the public. The input identified a need for formal legal recognition of the concept. On 9 February 2019 a summarised version of the position paper was presented to 180 plus community members from Jabulani, Zola, Zondi and surrounding areas in Soweto. It was noted that in many instances when legal reform takes place there is no adequate substantive engagement with the affected communities. There have been many reforms around land ownership and inheritance in urban spaces, but it has previously not been adequately communicated or explained how these changes would affect the manner in which property is owned, administered and even accessed.

As the position paper’s research and case work focused on Soweto, this community was an obvious choice for public engagement. Through the Zola Advice Centre, young and old expressed their thoughts, feelings and experiences in relation to this concept. After going through the sections, community members gave feedback on the paper based on their lived experiences. A few assumptions were corrected but mostly the community members concurred that the family house is a concept that is alive within their community but is also difficult to define. The community also called for formal recognition of the concept and families that practise this concept should be able, through legal mechanisms, to register properties as family homes.

The input from this consultation and the consultation in July 2018 with academics, legal professionals and social justice organisations saw the development of a policy toolkit. This document identifies key legislation and state functionaries that should be explored in advocating for policy and legislative reforms in relation to this concept. The policy toolkit was launched officially on 26 March 2019 at Hogan Lovells. Speakers from The Deeds Office Johannesburg, Master’s Office Johannesburg, the Gauteng Provincial Legislature Portfolio Committee on Human Settlements, the Gauteng Department of Human Settlements, the South African Law Reform Commission and a conveyancing practitioner gave their inputs and feedback on the authors’ recommendations on action to be taken to ensure policy and legislative change. This will lead to more substantive engagements with state entities such as the Law Reform Commission and provincial departments for policy and legislative reforms.

Both documents and updates on developments on this project can be accessed here

Click here for our complete April 2019 Newsletter

The One Child a Year (OCAY) Project

The One Child a Year (OCAY) Project

Article by Luke Gonçalves, OCAY legal intern, published in Probono.Org June 2016 Newsletter.

The National Child Care and Protection Forum Meeting, 7 – 9 March 2016

By virtue of ProBono.Org’s expanding One Child a Year (OCAY) project which launched in 2014, our presence was secured as a stakeholder at the National Child Care and Protection Forum hosted by the Department of Social Development in March this year.

Held in conjunction with USAID, the three-day conference provided updated information sessions by key speakers in the sector on various issues a ecting children. Attendees included the Centre for Child Law, Sophiatown Community Protection Services and the Commission for Gender Equality. These sessions were coupled with lively debate and solution-seeking discussions. At the forefront of the discussions were the challenges faced by many organisations and departments in securing the best interests of South African children on many levels.

Departmental officials at national and provincial level provided clarity as to the policy and framework in which the public and private sector should operate in providing assistance to children. A number of complex issues were covered, ranging from inter-country adoption and basic education to support grant applications. Concerns were raised, primarily from academics and civil society, with regard to the current White Paper on Social Welfare and the general principles of international conventions to which South Africa is a party.

ProBono.Org had an opportunity to inform participants of the practices and issues observed in the children’s cases we have dealt with as part of the OCAY project. These cases range from obtaining protection orders to securing education or other basic services. The matters often include a complexity of circumstances, entangled competing legal issues and systemic gaps in the child protection system, which make them difficult to process or to refer to private sector practitioners. Our cases seldom entail a single legal aspect, but despite this our office has become particularly adept at identifying the main issues in providing legal representation or support for children in need.

In securing legal representation for children, the needs of the child may coincide with the needs of the parents or the assistance required by them to secure the welfare of the child, but this is not always the case. Sometimes the welfare of the child is not the parents’ or caregiver’s priority and these needs or rights do not align. In these cases, children are at an increased risk of being neglected, exposed to secondary trauma or further abuse.

Children without formal documents are subject to various forms of discrimination. They face ongoing struggles in accessing basic and/or public services, ranging from education to health care. The forum members affirmed this, while raising concerns of capacity and resources within the child protection space to address this gap.

ProBono.Org’s effort to secure children’s rights was noted as making a significant impact in identifying systemic problems within the child protection system. This is significant because the OCAY project is aimed at ensuring long-term empowerment of children and realising important constitutional rights for them.

ProBono.Org is well positioned to identify, assist and secure the legal interests at hand for each child it assists, which is most likely to improve the overall welfare of the child in a particular matter. Through the pro bono contribution of private legal practitioners we attempt to give children a voice in legal proceedings.

In the OCAY project, we deal with many of the processes raised by those present at the meeting. These relate specifically to the functioning and registration of child and youth care centres (CYCCs); policies and associated gaps in ill-enforced partial care; child protection as a cumbersome and inter-sectional approach in the judicial system; declaratory orders and, lastly, issues relating to children in need of care and protection.

Our offices were able to provide input by way of our past and present cases. Our concerns with regard to practical failures in exceptional and challenging cases (which existing policy either does not cater for or where it is not up to ‘the best interest of the child’ standard) were aired. We were able to provide information on the noticeable gaps between policies and practices in our dealings with the Department of Home Affairs and orders granted by the Children’s Courts. It is of concern that many of the issues we raised were echoed by other stakeholders in attendance.

ONe-Child-a-year-logoProBono.Org was pleased to have been afforded an opportunity of high level engagement with the Department of Social Development and others, as it provided a platform where our services were made known to the sector. We have been approached to make a presentation at the next National Child Care and Protection Forum. We also wish to extend our appreciation to the various departments, including Basic Education and Health, who have subsequently made contact and provided guidance in resolving several of our children’s matters.

Itsoseng Women’s Project, Orange Farm

Itsoseng Women’s Project, Orange Farm

Article by Annelie du Plessis, published in Probono.Org June 2016 Newsletter.

 Mrs Zanele Gladys Mokolo, in her capacity as coordinator of the Itsoseng Women’s Project (IWP), approached our offices for assistance in a matter involving the Johannesburg Property Company. The IWP serves the community of Orange Farm by providing skills training programmes and community based projects to unemployed women in the area. One of these projects involves running a crèche for children between the ages of 0 to 6 years. The IWP presently has about 60 children in its care. The project also provides the destitute with a source of income through its recycling activities. Each programme operates from shipping containers on the premises, donated by the Department of Social Development, Agriculture and JAM SA, and one of these containers serves as the crèche.

The crèche employs four child minders, a cook and a gardener, and together with its recycling activities it employs about 18 women. Social Development provides subsidised funding to the IWP but this only buys food for about 36 children and barely covers the salaries of the crèche employees. The IWP provides the children with lunch. Most of the parents in the area cannot afford to pay crèche fees and for many children this is the only meal they receive.

The IWP does not own property. It has been leasing the erf in Orange Farm for several years. Before 1994, the Transvaal Provincial Administration (TPA) managed this property but in recent years it was given to the Johannesburg Property Company (JPC) to manage on behalf of the City of Johannesburg.

Following the disbanding of the TPA, the IWP was told by the JPC to re-apply for a new lease agreement in terms of a tender process, citing the Municipal Finance Management Act of 2003 (MFMA) as the basis for this change. Such an application involves a submission in accordance with the JPC’s Standard Transaction Application Form process and requires a R3000 application fee.

The IWP was not in a position to pay this fee or go through the tender process and requested assistance. An attorney, Neil McKenzie from Fasken Martineau provided our offices with a comprehensive opinion on the JPC’s proposed negotiations concerning the lease agreement with the IWP.

Various meetings were called to secure the IWP’s lease without going through the proposed tender process. This led to the JPC’s discovering that the premises were never formally registered with the Deeds Office. Further meetings and negotiations ensued, which ultimately led to the JPC agreeing to let IWP stay on the property, while it resolves the transfer and registration issue with the City of Johannesburg and the Deeds Office.

The JPC’s proposed tender process would have had far-reaching implications for the Orange Farm community as a whole. A tender process in terms of the MFMA is inappropriate for struggling social welfare organisations. ProBono.Org knows of at least 300 other NPOs (crèches) in a similar position. These NPOs provide a vital service to the community through employment, empowerment, training, education and food provision, but remain insufficiently funded or supported. These NPOs stand to lose properties that they have occupied for years, leaving many of their beneficiaries (mostly children) deprived and without any alternative care options. They are also not receiving sufficient funds or grants, which strains their resources even further.

For the above reasons, our offices, along with Gladys and her children at the crèche are grateful for Neil McKenzie’s dedication and commitment in finalising this matter. We hope this case will set a precedent, impacting on other NPOs in the area.

Mentorship Project

Article by: Annelie du Plessis

ProBono.Org is implementing a new project this year, that aims to improve the quality of the service we offerMentorship-Project our clients, by focusing on mentorship.

The aim of this project is to link less experienced attorneys and advocates with more experienced legal professionals in the field who can guide, advise and assist them. Those unfamiliar with a new area of law may wish to ask a mentor about specific matters, strategies to adopt in cases, procedures applicable, policy and legislative developments and other pertinent information that may afford our clients a better quality service.

We believe that this platform, facilitated by our offices, will provide an invaluable chance for knowledgeable practitioners to provide information, pass on knowledge and enhance the capacity of lawyers who are starting out or are not familiar with a new area of law.

We hope to recruit mentors in all our projects (covering issues of housing, family, consumer, refugee and
child law) to be of assistance to new and existing
legal practitioners on our panel. In this way, mentors fulfill their pro bono hours, while the mentees will

be supported, gaining a different perspective and/
or learning a new skill. We believe this can be done telephonically, electronically or in some cases in person.

If you would like to sign up to be a mentor please contact:
erica@probono.org.za or annelie@probono.org.za.

Pro bono attorneys and advocates needed for our One Child a Year Campaign

Pro bono attorneys and advocates needed for our One Child a Year Campaign

Article by: Annelie du Plessis

Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in our society and ProBono.Org has created a special project,
the One Child a Year Campaign, aimed at providing legal assistance to children in order for them to realise their
full potential and live the life imagined for them in the Constitution. The aim of the project is not only to secure legal representation for children but to ensure that their cases are finalised in a holistic manner, and that such finalisation is to the advantage of the child. The project has a special focus on children who enter the legal or child protection system but fall through the cracks, experiencing trauma and neglect.

Since its inception in 2014, this project has gained momentum and we receive requests for legal assistance for children on an ongoing basis. These referrals come from various children’s courts in the area, from child protection organisations, teachers, social workers and concerned parents. At the moment we have about 15 committed legal practitioners but we would like to increase this number to at least 100 in order to meet our caseload.

We would be pleased if you would get involved by serving on our panel of pro bono lawyers, social workers, counsellors and/or psychologists and by giving one small person the support he or she needs. We plan to host a number of training workshops throughout the year to deepen our understanding of dealing with these matters, and have a number of experts we can call on to provide guidance and advice. We will also use mentors in this project as an additional resource.

Community Advice Office Support Project: Social media for social change

Community Advice Office Support Project: Social media for social change

Article by: Tshenolo Masha

The work of community advice offices (CAOs) remains pivotal in realising the objectives of access to justice. Many advice offices struggle with the harsh realities of not having funding and operating in an environment that is not adequately resourced. They encounter challenges that require instant access to information or referral of their matter. In some instances a simple task like sending an email becomes a stumbling block to ensuring that much needed assistance is provided to a desperate member of the community.

Access to technology these days does not have to mean a bulky desktop PC. Today’s technology allows for data collection, office management and communication to be easily accessible from hand- held devices. The most important advantage is that one can use social media, which promotes interactivity and connectedness which are at the very core of social change efforts.

Social change on social media platforms is not restricted to the advertising of goods and services, but these platforms can be used to expand the reach of community based organisations such as the CAOs. They can use the social media platforms in their area of operations to disseminate information on important legal matters and events that could benefit the community as a whole.

The Device Pilot Project is being rolled out in six CAOs situated between Gauteng and Limpopo. The project will provide smart phones to the CAOs for a period of 10 months. During this period they will be using well-known applications such as WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook to convey important information related to cases, data collection, events, workshops, meetings and other activities. The project’s main objective is to determine if these platforms can be used effectively for data collection and the legal empowerment of the community. This project is also about shaping the manner in which CAOs can use these social media platforms in an innovative way. As Tom Freston, the former CEO of MTV said,

“Innovation is taking two things that already exist and putting them together in a new way.”