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CALS Quarterly Issue 9

- Lee-Anne Bruce

What we've been working on during lockdown, featuring human rights defenders facing SLAPP suits, the difficulties of trying to stay home without a home and more

The last few months have been a very unusual and challenging time to work in social justice in South Africa. The national lockdown has not only changed our way of operating, shifting everything from our court hearings to protest rallies online, it also has seen some of our existing projects put on hold as we address many urgent new issues that have come up. Our teams have been incredibly responsive, assisting with queries on everything from emergency travel permits, unfair dismissals and evictions to police brutality. We have been pleased to join the C19 People's Coalition with other public interest organisations and participate actively in a number of working groups. 

It has been our practice during this time to work in critical partnership with the state, seeking to support their efforts in slowing the spread of the virus while at the same time addressing those regulations and practices that violate fundamental human rights. This approach has seen us working to protect the most vulnerable and under-serviced people in our communities, whether they collect social grants or have migrated from another country, or stay anywhere from informal settlements to rural areas, in shelters or even correctional centres.

In fact, many of the issues that have come up during this time reflect systemic problems we and our partners have been working on for many years. Mine workers and mining affected communities are once again demanding to be included in the laws and policies that affect them. Gender-based violence remains one of our country's greatest shames and shelters continue to operate without nearly enough resources to meet their needs. We are still facing a massive crisis around housing and land. And, as the last few weeks have shown, concerns around state-sanctioned violence did not come to an end with the Marikana Commission. 

As we slowly come through the different levels of lockdown, so we are beginning to see many of our existing cases come back to life. Somehow, our amazing teams are keeping up with the waves of new regulations and challenges of lockdown as well as their existing work – all under very trying conditions. This week alone, we were in two virtual hearings, one urgent and the other long-standing, arguing against the use of strategic litigation by the state and corporations to threaten human rights defenders. Read on for more about these and other recent highlights. 

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all our staff, supporters, donors and fellow public interest organisations for coming together in this difficult time to ensure access to justice can continue during lockdown.