Despite being forced to close its doors from 26 March until 21 June in 2020, the Stellenbosch University Law Clinic still managed to provide access to legal services for close to 1 000 individuals. Assistance was provided in various legal fields, which was facilitated through legal practitioners employed at the clinic and through the Faculty of Law students under the supervision of these practitioners.
In 2020, the Law Clinic assisted the greatest number of clients with eviction matters in the Western Cape. Ninety-five client files relating to eviction problems were opened, with a total of 120 matters of clients being finalised and simultaneously 200 pending files being worked on. The clinic successfully finalised 26 eviction applications, either by reaching mutually acceptable agreements that were made court orders or by successfully opposing eviction applications. Since the beginning of 2020, to date a total a total of 36 families were successfully assisted with their relocations from farms in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Simondium and Wellington.
The Financial Literacy Project (FLP), a collaboration between the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, is aimed at equipping members of the community with financial skills that will enable them to make informed decisions that will be advantageous to their economic wellbeing. The FLP provides community members with fundamental financial concepts to assist them in their financial endeavours and involves student volunteers from Financial Planning 378 and the Law of Civil Procedure modules. During 2019 and 2020, students in groups of 3–4 provided training sessions to farm workers and high school learners. In 2019, 29 presentations were delivered to 879 high school learners and approximately 650 farm workers on 8 farms were visited. In 2020, during the hard lockdown, the in-person approach was converted to a digital one. Instead of visiting schools and farms, each group of students received 2 topics on which to prepare a video or PowerPoint presentation for both school learners and farm workers. These efforts culminated in a financial literacy package comprising different financial literacy topics such as the Consumer Protection Act and How to Distinguish Between Wants and Needs. The financial literacy package was delivered in various languages to eleven 11 schools and 18 farms and organisations.
The FLP also forms part of other training initiatives offered at the Law Clinic, such as the Women's Empowerment Toolbox workshop in which 43 Somerset West community members participated. The workshop focussed on various issues such as discrimination and sexual harassment.
Throughout 2021, each student group is required to produce a concept concerning the teaching of a particular financial literacy topic. A list of topics, target audiences and instructional media from which each group will make a selection is provided. For example, a group may choose the topic The Importance of Budgeting aimed at a specific audience, such as primary school learners, to be delivered in the form of posters.
The FLP hopes to reach an increasingly larger segment of the community through different media platforms, considering the COVID-19 pandemic and our students' restricted access to meeting in person. Through the adoption of this approach, we hope to build up resources to further educate different and larger communities in the future.
Another example of an initiative under the auspices of the FLP is the design, publication and dissemination of the A3 calendar, which is printed and distributed on a large scale to communities in the Cape Winelands area. The calendar contains tips for managing one's finances. In addition, an A3 information sheet containing more detailed tips for managing one's finances has been created and distributed throughout these communities.
The Law Clinic has conducted various training and empowerment initiatives over the past year, including the Women's Empowerment Toolbox workshop and constitutional rights-based training. At the beginning of December 2020, the clinic presented a Legislative Training workshop to members of the Witzenberg Water for Justice Coalition in Bella Vista. Material that specifically accompanied the workshop and that was also intended for use in the future was developed and prepared in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.
Various exciting collaborations between the Law Clinic and key role players are in place with a view to effectuating social impact, inter alia, through training and empowerment. Towards the latter part of 2020, Black Sash, which is one of South Africa's foremost human rights organisations, approached the clinic to collaborate on a potential high-impact matter. The mission of Black Sash is to work towards the realisation of socio-economic rights as outlined in the South African Constitution with an emphasis on social security and social protection for the most vulnerable to reduce poverty and inequality. During September 2020, Black Sash released a research report titled Social Grants: Challenging Reckless Lending in South Africa. The report demonstrates how South Africa's extensive social grant system that was meant to provide resources to the poor has been abused to serve as collateral for debt granted on exploitative terms and conditions. The report ultimately advocates for urgent remedial action, including legislative alignment, stricter enforcement of existing restrictions on predatory lending and improved financial education. In Black Sash's efforts to give effect to the findings and the recommendations of the report, it identified the Law Clinic as the organisation with the necessary legal expertise in debt justice to assist in this important and ongoing project.
During the time when the Law Clinic had to close its doors, the clinic decided to launch a social media campaign to create awareness regarding certain rights and obligations of relevance in the current circumstances. Various Facebook and website posts were made relating to the clinic's fields of expertise but also regarding other matters, for example labour-related legal advice and information.
Dr Mary Nel is head of the Ubuntu Learning Community Project, which is an educational partnership between Stellenbosch University and the Department of Correctional Services. In 2020, a 17-session interdisciplinary short course to be presented in Brandvlei Correctional Centre was planned. The course incorporated insights from history, economics, art and music, English and law. The participants included 20 Stellenbosch University students and the same number of incarcerated persons. Unfortunately, after the first month, COVID-19 forced the termination of the face-to-face sessions. In September 2020, Dr Nel finally managed to re-enter Brandvlei Correctional Centre to meet with the incarcerated participants. She further obtained permission to start planning a series of online engagements in the form of seminars, workshops and meetings for the incarcerated participants from the 2019 and 2020 Ubuntu Learning Short Course cohorts. They also held a very successful in-person creative writing workshop behind bars in October 2020.
It was decided that due to the ongoing COVID-19-related concerns, it would not be prudent to recommence with the short course in 2021. Instead, a series of online seminars was planned in consultation with the participants. The planning of online interaction with incarcerated participants took longer than expected, but by March 2021, the infrastructure and permission to commence were in place. The first session entailed a very fruitful and inspiring interaction between incarcerated participants and a formerly incarcerated Unisa lecturer. It took place recently, with a series of sessions coming up over the next few months. These will entail both experts, for example Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron, now Prison Inspector, addressing and engaging with participants and outside Ubuntu Learning participants from past years interacting with those behind bars. While these sessions are only envisaged as an alternative until the face-to-face short course can recommence, the online interactions initiated by the COVID-19 restrictions are another example of the innovation of the Ubuntu Learning initiative. The online meetings between Stellenbosch University and outside participants and those behind bars are a first for South Africa.
The social impact initiatives of the Faculty of Law are encouraging as these are evident of the faculty's commitment to making a difference in society"