A short course for community-based paralegals
South Africa has the highest inequality in the world. Despite nearly three decades of democratic rule, landlessness, exploitation, poverty, racism, violence, corruption and a collapse of basic services have a stark presence in everyday life. Today there is a shared sentiment that although 1994 did bring about some significant changes, the society we live in is a far cry from one that different generations of activists dreamed of and fought to establish. There is growing dissatisfaction with and distrust in politics as a tool for change, with politics increasingly associated with the ‘big men’, patronage, self-enrichment, upward social mobility for the few. With 2024 elections around the corner and the rise of regressive forces that target the marginalised, many are confused about what the future may bring. Different explanations are offered for why these realities persist. Different responses or ‘ways out’ are also presented. What
is Democracy is a course about South Africa today – why it is the way it is, why this matters and crucially, what we can do to overturn this dismal situation.
Following the success of our 2022 programme, this short course returns for a second exciting year. Designed specifically for community-based paralegals and fieldworkers who provide a range of services to the communities they serve – including information access, support with gender-based violence cases and matters; assistance with evictions; labour; consumer and social security matters as well as different kinds of dispute resolution – this course will locate the historical roots of the day-to-day issues that advice offices contend with and contextualise them within broader contestations, resistance and imaginations about democracy.
Woven through the course are these questions
1. What do the realities that community-based paralegals deal with on an ongoing basis reveal about the texture of South Africa’s democracy?
2. How can we explain the persistent and growing inequalities and injustices that dominate South Africa today, nearly 30 years into democratic rule?
3. What are some of the big struggles waged in South Africa today? What do they teach us about democracy, resistance and imagination?
4. What does a democracy for the many, not a few, look like? What can we learn – from the past and today – about attempts to craft expansive and radical notions of democracy?
Participants in the course will consider these questions, locate them historically and look at their theoretical underpinnings.
This course will complement the knowledge and experience acquired by community-based paralegals in their practice with conceptual tools designed to better understand why the South Africa we live in today, is a nightmare for so many and what can be done to change this. Between the two residential modules participants will engage in online contact, tasks and support.
A range of creative techniques – interactive games, role plays and scenario exercises, seminars, film screenings, fireside chats, reading circles, guest lectures, activist panels, discussion groups and debates – will be used in delivering the course. The course is residential and has two modules, each running over five days. Between the two residential modules participants will engage in online contact, tasks and support.
Who can apply:
Participants must be engaged in community paralegal work and provide legal assistance and dispute resolution services to communities on a range of issues. In selecting the participants, Tshisimani will consider geographic spread, gender, age and period of service to the community. We will make every effort to draw participants from different age groups and with different levels of experience, aiming for a diverse mixture in the learning space.
Participants are expected to commit to attending the entire duration of the course, which runs over two blocks: the advice office or place of work needs to approve leave for the applicant to attend these two residential modules.
Orientation and registration: 8 May 2023
Module 1: Mon 8 May – Fri 12 May 2023 (held in Western Cape)
Module 2: October 2023 (location TBC)
A final assessment task will be completed in September 2023. An expression of support from your community advice office or organisation is mandatory.
Tuition fees, data to support course work, travel and accommodation will be covered by Tshisimani. Space is limited to 25 participants.
Module 1: Why Democracy? Then and Now
8 May – 12 May 2023
This module is about the realities that confront activists in South Africa today – inequality, racism, uneven patterns of land ownership, spatial segregation and endemic violence. The aim of the module is to ask questions about the persistence of these realities after the installation of a democratic government in 1994 – a government ushered in with the promise of “a better life for all”. In answering these questions, we will deal with the history of poverty and inequality; and how race, class and gender oppression worked together and configured the economy and society we live in today. We will use different lenses to grapple with a history which has been profoundly shaped by colonial conquest and dispossession, slavery, violence, indentured and migrant labour, enforced
segregation and the creation of a system of production relying upon cheap black labour. Although tracing back inequality, poverty, land deprivation, spatial segregation and violence; the module will also look at political and policy choices that post-1994 governments chose and continue to take. By the end of this module, participants would have grappled with:
1. What were the key demands of ordinary people in the struggle against apartheid?
2. What do these realities reveal about how our society functions, who rules South Africa today, different group interests and the nature of the post-1994 state?
3. In what ways are the everyday issues that community-based paralegals deal with linked to unfolding struggles for dignity and democracy.
Module 2: Remaking democracy? Alternatives and strategies
Activists today share a growing consensus that there is a big rift between people’s daily realities and the promise of a better life for all. While the broad consensus is evident across different organising spaces in South Africa, the same cannot be said about how to organise politically to challenge the social and economic crisis of our time. For this module, participants will examine some of emerging responses to the social and economic crisis besieging SA today, including a growing disillusionment with politics as a vehicle for change; greater appeal of authoritarian politics and the yearning for “strongmen” as well as a defense of the Constitution at all costs. We will look at how these responses point us to larger questions of what is meant by “alternatives” as well as what a democratic, egalitarian society would look like. This module hopes to foreground questions about strategy and tactics for radical social transformation and hone-in on real world cases and attempts to craft expansive notions of democracy that give ordinary people power over the political and economic forces that govern their lives. We will reconnect with and draw inspiration from ideas of democracy, located in our past and from the struggles being waged by activists in South Africa and the across the world today. Of particular interest are experiments from militant union traditions, women’s organising, shack dwellers’ movements, community organising as well as traditions that approach the law as a terrain of struggle.
By the end of this module, participants should be able to:
1. critically assess the different responses to the ongoing crisis in their respective communities and in SA more broadly,
2. map the social formations and struggles in their different communities and identify, starting with their own experience, the layers in society today that are invested in and most capable of ushering in a radically different SA,
3. locate the role of their practice in unfolding struggles to change the nature of South African society today.
To apply, please submit the following
- Submit a short bio by filling in this Google form
- Email a letter of support from your advice office or organisation stating that they support your application for this course and will grant you leave to attend the two modules. Send the email to firstname.lastname@example.org ensuring your name and the organisation you work for/with is included in the letter.
- Whatsapp your short video/voice note task (see below) to 066 220 0089.
Instructions for short video or voice note task (3 minutes):
Record and send a 3-minute video or voice note stating the following:
- Your name and where you come from.
- The name of the advice office/organisation where you are located.
- Tell us a story about a case that you dealt with in the last 5 years.
- What is the one thing you learnt from this case?
Your video or voice note should not be longer than 3 minutes
Video and voice note tips. Ensure that you record in a quiet place with no noise interruptions. Clean your camera before recording on video. Use the questions only as a guide. Do not repeat the questions on the video or voice note as this will take more time. Send your video or voice note along with your name and contact details to this WhatsApp number 066 220 0089.
The deadline for applications is Tuesday, 25 April 2023. Late applications will not be considered. If we have not contacted you by Tuesday 2nd May, then please consider your application unsuccessful
For more information contact:
Call: 021 685 3516