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About us


The Centre for Applied Legal Studies was founded in 1978 by Professor John Dugard as a legal research unit within Wits University. The purpose of the Centre was to encourage law reform and improve access to justice during apartheid. While much has changed over the years since then, our organisation remains committed to promoting human rights and challenging systems of power in South Africa and the region.

Our vision is a socially, economically and politically just society where repositories of power, including the state and the private sector, uphold human rights. In aspiring towards this vision, our mission is to:

  1. Deconstruct the legacy of apartheid;
  2. Challenge and hold to account systems that perpetuate harm, poverty, inequality and human rights violations;
  3. Reconstruct an inclusive and equal society
Who we are

CALS is a public interest law organisation based at the Wits School of Law. CALS is also a law clinic registered with the Legal Practice Council. As such, CALS connects the worlds of academia and social justice.

What we do

CALS practices human rights law and social justice work with a specific focus on five intersecting programme areas, namely Basic Services, Business and Human Rights Environmental Justice, Gender, and Rule of Law. 

How we do it

Our Tools

CALS uses a combination of theory and practice to advance human rights. We use three tools, namely research (both field research and desktop research); advocacy (including training, engaging with the media, providing legal services to clients, making submissions to parliament, and negotiating with government and corporations) and strategic litigation

Our Approach


CALS adopts an intersectional approach to rights protection, understanding that human rights  are  rarely violated in isolation. The intersectionality of CALS’ five Programmes allows us to address rights violations holistically, responding to the multidimensional nature  of  human  rights  violations  that  are  not  easily categorised or insulated. For example, the violation of an environmental right usually entails a threat to basic services such as water, housing and sanitation. This threat in turn usually manifests differently for women and men, requiring an understanding of the gendered nature of the violation. A lack of basic services often triggers the need to protest, which is regularly criminalised, resulting in the arrest and detention of people living in poverty. It is this comprehensive and holistic approach that CALS adopts.

Gendered analysis

All of our work is infused with a gendered analysis. This approach allows us to examine silenced violations that often remain undetected because of assumptions of homogeneity of experiences.


In order to be effective, our lawyering must be creative. This allows us to go beyond the traditional notions of lawyering within court cases to include mediation, client empowerment and political settlements. This approach also allows us to explore other disciplines to inform our work and  make  us  better  human  rights lawyers. Examples of this multidisciplinary approach include film; social work (as a method of understanding the psycho-­‐social drivers of trauma experienced by many of our clients) and economics (to understand the political economy within which human rights violations occur). Read more about our law and film tool here

Conscious of the transformation agenda

CALS’ staff members include an exceptional collection of lawyers, support staff and researchers. We pursue an environment of professional satisfaction, where colleagues work in a manner that has integrity and purpose. Colleagues undertake to engage each other with collegiality and dignity, where independent thought is applauded and the pursuit of our common vision determines our actions.

CALS’ commitment to transformation in society must be matched by internal transformation. CALS’ workspace is one that prioritises development of marginalised and disadvantaged persons and the intentional deconstruction of barriers that continue to disadvantage black women in particular. We have  formal  and informal spaces to discuss transformation, black consciousness, white privilege and cultural oppression and silencing in the workplace. We use all mechanisms within the University recruitment policies to  attract, maintain and advance black female colleagues. Our staffing plan for 2016 works towards the actualisation of a transformed staff component.


The projects in each programme seek to build upon previous work, so we continuously build on our existing work to achieve our mission, rather than branching off into a number of splintered and disparate areas. This allows us to take a long-term approach to social justice work, while focusing on incremental stages involved in the longer-term achievement of our vision.