Defending the rights of the

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Farm dwellers and land rights

The Farm Life Project was initiated as a response to the challenges facing poor people living on farms to secure access to land and sustained livelihoods. It brought NPOs together around a common goal to raise the profile of farmworkers and the rights violations they continue to face. These violations include illegal evictions, substandard living conditions, and poor quality schooling.

The project initiated research, undertaken by Social Surveys and Nkuzi to identify the scale of the problem. Informed by the research findings, a national awareness and advocacy campaign was launched to generate interest, support and action. The campaign had clear recommendations for government to prevent evictions and improve the living conditions of farm dwellers.

Atlantic’s grantees seeking to address rural poverty also used the law to increase access to the rights and services due to poor people.

In a groundbreaking case in 2010, the Legal Resources Centre, representing four rural communities, successfully challenged the Communal Land Rights Act. The Act would have subjected millions of people living in rural areas to the unchecked authority of tribal chiefs. Women in particular, would have been barred from owning or inheriting land. The legal challenge resulted in the Constitutional Court declaring the Act unconstitutional. The overturning of the Act secured land ownership for countless people, and safeguarded the rights of millions of women living in rural areas.

In response to advocacy efforts, notably by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the government introduced a policy to close farm schools with substandard amenities, replacing these with improved educational infrastructure in rural areas. Also, the Transkei Land Services Organisation successfully prevented a number of illegal farm evictions.

Access to legal aid

Legal advice offices are key access points for rural South Africans to get support to protect their rights when dealing with land, property and consumer issues. These offices also assist in dispute resolution between poor individuals and government or other authorities.

The National Alliance for the Development of Community Advice Offices (NADCAO) is a coalition of community advice offices established around a shared vision to grow the resourcing of the sector as a whole. Through the local advice centers it supports, NADCAO assists people living in rural areas to exercise their rights as guaranteed under the Constitution. By funding this alliance of rural advice offices, Atlantic supported the availability of free legal advice to poor people across South Africa.

Through a public interest clearing house model, ProBono.Org has worked to expand legal access to ordinary South Africans. ProBono.Org has grown volunteerism in the corporate law sector by recruiting thousands of legal professionals to take on cases, pro bono, on behalf of people who would otherwise not afford legal representation. This has enhanced constitutional rights to legal representation and access to justice for the poor.

In the late 1990s, Black Sash, one of the oldest human rights organisations in South Africa, undertook research to assess the extent to which poor people were able to access their national pensions. The findings exposed excessively long waiting periods for pension payouts, which seriously compromised the livelihoods of recipients.

Armed with this research, and supported by the Legal Resources Centre, Black Sash brought a court case against the government. The case sought to challenge the long delays in pension payouts. The winning of the case resulted in government being compelled to improve access to national pensions.

Other Atlantic grantees working to support the rural poor, through a range of programmes and initiatives, include Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, Freedom of Expression Institute, Rural Legal Trust, the Association of University Legal Aid Institutions Trust.