Public Interest Law Gathering

Public Interest Law Gathering
A coming together of public interest law practitioners in South Africa.

PROGRAMME 2014 (21 JULY 2014)
Media Report on Keynote by Judge Jody Kollapen
Posted by klaarenje on July 28, 2014
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The keynote address of the Public Interest Law Gathering at Wits University on Thursday, 24 July 2014 was delivered by Judge Jody Kollapen of the North Gauteng High Court.

It was titled: “How, and to what extent, has public interest litigation unlocked the promise of the Constitution?”

Kollapen highlighted four areas in which public interest law work has made a significant contribution, including ensuring the lawful exercise of power, through strategic litigation and intervening in the law making process. “There should be a justification for the exercise of every power,” he said.

Secondly, in many areas, such as the rights of women, children and asylum seekers, public interest law workers have taken the broad promise of rights in the Constitution and transformed it into real and meaningful guarantees. “We have seen remarkable work done in this area,” said Kollapen.

Thirdly, according to Kollapen, public interest law workers have succeeded in empowering citizens and non-citizens by increasing public awareness and knowledge about what it means to live in a constitutional democracy.

Finally, they have shown that the Constitution can and does work. “When our constitution was adopted many years ago, people were sceptical about its ability to convert promises into reality,” said Kollapen. He said that the work of the last few years had proven that through passion and commitment it was possible.

However, he said, if the question was have we done enough to transform our society, the answer would have to be decisively no.

Kollapen cautioned against the judicialisation of politics, saying there was a critical role for public interest lawyers, but also a need for the awareness of the limits of that role. He said that despite their best intentions, public interest lawyers should be strategic about the kinds of cases they took up.

“With that background, that considerable level of achievement, what is the state of the society in which we live today? To what extent have we achieved equality – the cornerstone of what we fought for in the pre-94 era, and the outcome that we should be measured against?” asked Kollapen.

“In this regard, the diagnostic report of the NPC reminds us that we remain a substantially unequal society. This is a far cry from the constitutional imperative that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.”

Kollapen said that just as this generation ponders how it was possible for any society to justify and maintain apartheid for so long, so future generations will wonder how this society, with all its abundance, allowed such manifest inequality. “The democracy that we’ve put in place faces its biggest challenge form the ongoing inequality that still persists,” he said.

Kollapen also spent some time discussing the role of Chapter 9 Institutions, saying that in a rule-based society, knowledge of the rules and how to use them was paramount. He said that in the context of our society, access to justice existed in criminal but not civil cases. “People regularly face the loss of a home or loss of employment and there’s no automatic right to legal assistance.”

Fortunately, Kollapen is in discussions to establish advice offices at the North and South High Courts to deal with matters such as evictions and foreclosures on mortgages. “I think this is important if we are serious about advancing socioeconomic rights,” he said.

He encouraged those present to think about how they could contribute to socioeconomic and other forms of justice, saying that an hour of one’s time could make a huge difference to putting someone on the right path.

In closing, Kollapen said that the challenges the country faced going forward were formidable but not insurmountable. He said that the Constitution had provided the means to address inequality, but that South Africa hadn’t done as well as it should have. “That must be at the centre of our deliberations going forward.”
Swazi Statement made at PILG 2014
Posted by klaarenje on July 25, 2014
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25 JULY 2014

Civil Society Organisations Condemn Unreasonable Sentence of Prominent Swaziland Activists

The undersigned organisations, meeting at the Public Interest Law Gathering in Johannesburg, condemn the conviction and unreasonable sentence handed down by Judge Mpendulo Simelane in the Mbabane High Court in Swaziland.

Last week, Judge Simelane found human rights lawyer Thulani Maseko and magazine editor Bheki Makhubu guilty of contempt of court and today sentenced them to a two-year jail term without the option of a fine. Judge Simelane argued that the articles penned by Maseko and Makhubu in The Nation magazine interfered with the administration of justice as they referred to a criminal matter still pending before court. Maseko and Makhubu had criticised the arrest and detention of government vehicle inspector, Bhantshana Gwebu, in January this year after he charged the driver of one of the Supreme Court judges with following an unauthorised route. The articles amounted to legitimate comment on the conduct of the judiciary and should not have led to the contempt of court charges brought against Maseko and Makhubu.

The pair has been unlawfully detained since their arrest in March and the trial has been fraught with procedural irregularities. Maseko and Makhubu had sought Judge Simelane’s recusal due to his personal involvement in the Gwebu case, which had been the subject of the articles in question. In his judgment, he provided evidence related to the Gwebu matter, which remained unchallenged as he had not testified during the trial.

To compound the trial’s injustices, Judge Simelane imposed the maximum possible sentence of two years imprisonment on Maseko and Makhubu and, in addition, a E100 000 (USD10 000) fine on the magazine and its publisher. The sentence failed to take into account the time Maseko and Makhubu had already spent in detention while awaiting trial.

The case has highlighted the increasing repression of activists in Swaziland and the conviction and sentence will further entrench the culture of fear in that country. The criminal justice system is being used by the authorities to silence those who dare speak out against the conduct of those in power. This case is a stark reminder of the lack of independence of the Swazi judiciary and we believe that this is a serious concern for the region as a whole.

Maseko and Makhubu’s legal representatives are discussing the option of filing an appeal against the conviction and sentence. We call on the Swazi judicial and political authorities to ensure that an appeal be heard expeditiously and that due process be followed throughout the process.

Independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of democracy and we wish to express our solidarity with Maseko and Makhubu and the people of Swaziland.
Socioeconomic Rights Institute (SERI)
Wits School of Law
Lawyers for Human Rights
Section 27
Southern Africa Litigation Centre
Legal Resources Centre
Centre for Applied Legal Studies
Black Sash
Students for Law and Social Justice
Right to Know Campaign
Freedom of Expression Institute
Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights
Southern African Human Rights Defenders Network
Centre for Child Law

Further Info:

Nicole Fritz, Executive Director, Southern Africa Litigation Centre; Tel: +27 (0) 10 596 8538; Mobile: +27 (0) 82 600 1028; Email:

Jacob van Garderen, Lawyers for Human Rights; Mobile: +27 (0) 82 820 3960;
Text of Justice Cameron’s Speech at PILG 2014 available on website
Posted by klaarenje on July 25, 2014
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Justice Cameron delivered a speech at a Birthday Party Reception in the evening of July 24, 2014.

Please go to the website at
Livestreaming available for PILG 2014
Posted by klaarenje on July 25, 2014
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All the PILG 2014 sessions being held in the Chalsty Auditorium are being livestreamed.

To view, go to

A Thank You to Our Sponsor(s)
Posted by klaarenje on July 21, 2014
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A Big THANK YOU to our sponsors for PILG 2014:

The Bertha Foundation
The Open Society Foundation South Africa
The South African Human Rights Commission
First Day Details: PILG 24 July 2014
Posted by klaarenje on July 16, 2014
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*Participants are urged to get to the Wits campus early

*We will post suggestions re: where to find parking — be aware that the students will be in session

*Registration: Thursday, 24 July from 8:00 to 9:00, Chalsty Centre, Wits Law School, West Campus

*Start Time: 9:00 am SHARP!
LHR to host seminar on refugee protection, 23 July 2014
Posted by klaarenje on July 15, 2014
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As part of Public Interest Law Gathering 2014, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) will host a day-long seminar on the state of refugee protection in South Africa. Panel discussions will focus on the refugee status determination system, labour rights, the special dispensation for Zimbabweans and the protection challenges caused by the on-going xenophobic attacks on refugee traders. The main aim of the workshop is to bring together civil society organizations, advocacy and refugee groups to deliberate and develop appropriate responses to these challenges. This day-long seminar takes place the day before the main programme of PILG, which occurs on 24 & 25 July 2014.

When: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Where: University of the Witwatersrand, School of Law, Chalsty Auditorium
Time: 9:00 am to 16:30 pm
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