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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 Business & Human Rights; Civil & Political Justice; Environmental Justice; Gender Justice and Home, Land & Rural Democracy. 

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.

Open letter against state capture and corruption

- Lee-Anne Bruce

The Civil Society Working Group on State Capture publishes an open letter on state capture and corruption this Freedom Day

State capture and corruption has had a clear impact on the people of this country. The consequences of the looting have been dire and have undoubtedly contributed to deepening inequality, poverty and unemployment and extends beyond a financial loss. The capacity of the state has been severely eroded; and Human rights, such as health care, social security, the public transport system and basic education, to name only a few, have been compromised by the actions of corrupt individuals and powerful corporations.

The struggle against corruption and the rebuilding of our institutions, cannot only be left to law enforcement agencies and the justice system. The people of South Africa should also play their part in holding those in power to account.

We therefore continue to mobilise around the work of the Zondo Commission and issues of state capture and corruption because the reality is that, South Africa’s struggle for social justice and human rights will not be realised if those who loot with impunity in the public and private sector remain unaccountable.

To the political elites who write ruminating columns and use the loud hailers of social media to fuel the fires of hate, violence and division for political machinations we say: no single political organisation can claim ownership of “speaking for the people”. That voice belongs to each and every one of us – the people of South Africa.
To the powerful corporations, that have enabled state capture and corruption, we call on you to come clean and to stop placing profits above people and human rights – you have enabled injustice for too long.

To the media – and the media owners – now is the time to be more critical and considered in your reporting, not less. Clearly separate fact from fiction, avoid stepping onto the stage of sceptical distraction and help ensure the continued restoration of the publics’ faith in a free and fair press.

To all those hardworking civil servants in government who relentlessly work for our people and help carry the nation through this terrible pandemic, we thank you. To the brave whistle-blowers that continue to come forward, often at great personal cost, we also say thank you.
We stand with you and will be forever grateful for your courage and sacrifice.

To the Zondo Commission we say: keep up the hard work! While standing in full support of your work includes remaining critical, it cannot be stressed enough that the work you are doing, peeling back the layers of secrecy and exposing the extent of the rot in our systems of governance, is vital for the future of this country. This work is contributing to the growing knowledge of what needs to change in order for the country to move forward and for our democracy to be strengthened.

The purpose of the commission is to understand how state capture was allowed to happen. It is a question that still needs to be answered by powerful corporations and the political elite of this country. There are many people that remain in key positions of power who have been implicated in serious corruption and malfeasance.

The commission and the courts are just two bodies responsible for articulating and shepherding the constitutional aspirations of our democracy. Parliament, law enforcement and the many other institutions that make up our body politic also have a constitutional duty in holding those in power to account.
To this end we call on all our institutions to publicly denounce disinformation and fabricated crises – and to purse their constitutional mandates with renewed vigour and integrity.

The patterns of behaviour, that enabled State Capture in the first place, still continue. Amongst these we do not exclude the power hungry elite in the public and private sector that meet over tea to plot the future trajectory of the country and divide up the spoils. This needs to stop. Such practices have no place in the democracy we have worked for or were promised.

Why is this important?

We have elected leaders and bestowed on them the responsibility to govern, to enable us to achieve a better life for all – not themselves. We, as people of South Africa, have a right to know in whose interests’ decisions – supposedly in "our” name – were and continue to be made.

The culture of secrecy and impunity must come to an end if our democracy is to thrive.
Transparency and accountability are non-negotiable, as too are the requirements for transformative actions to address the injustices that remain embedded in our social, economic and political systems. Our constitution is revolutionary in its design, but the values and vision that it prescribes can only materialise if embraced by the state through which it is enacted.

As people of this country, we all support the value and vision in the Constitution which protects the rights of the people in our country, it is the bedrock of our democracy and foundation of the rule of law.

We, the undersigned, support/endorse this open letter to raise our voices in solidarity against state capture and impunity, and to say now is the time for us to be heard.

The realities of the current moment cannot be met with silence and complacency.
#ThePeopleSay #Wake-Up SA!

Civil Society endorsements:

Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC)
Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS)
Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC)
Corruption Watch (CW)
Dullah Omar Institute (DOI)
Equal Education (EE)
Freedom Under Law (FUL)
Legal Resources Centre (LRC)
My Vote Counts (MVC)
Open Secrets
Organisation for Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA)
Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI)
Section27 (S27)
Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)
Right2Know (R2K)