Update from The Women’s Legal Centre in Cape Town – Sarah Mahony

Glorious Cape Town

Glorious Cape Town

I have been in Cape Town just over a month working as a legal intern at The Women’s Legal Centre (WLC), a non-profit, independently funded law centre specialising in providing legal advice and litigation services for women in South Africa. The WLC provides advice across a wide range of legal issues that affect women in South Africa including domestic violence, relationship and marriage rights, as well as discrimination in the workplace.

Access to justice for women, especially black women, in South Africa is a huge problem and the WLC are working to help change that by protecting women’s legal rights and bringing important cases to court. This is a fantastic opportunity and I want to thank The City Law School for facilitating the internship as well as providing funding in the form of The City Law School Human Rights Scholarship.

Cape Town is a City of almost endless variation and beauty. On my first drive from the airport on 1st October I was immediately struck by the awe-inducing mountains that encase this sprawling coastal settlement. The Atlantic is a blue that you only see in films, creeping around the edge of the city and stretching as far as the eye can see. The trees are spindle-like with glossy, thick green leaves. So majestic is Table Top Mountain that I will never tire of looking at the fluffy clouds cascading over its edges like dry ice. Through some trick of the eye it always looks close enough to touch. For anyone who has been to Cape Town, you will already be conjuring this scene in your mind, and for those of you that haven’t visited, I am afraid I really can’t do the natural beauty any justice with words – you have to see it! Needless to say, from my very first glimpse of this place I just couldn’t wait to get out there and live it.

The office we work in is in the city centre in an area that is very much the Chancery Lane of Cape Town. Every building has a law firm and it is only a few short steps to Keerom Street, home to most Barristers’ Chambers. Parliament and the law courts are also around the corner. The location of WLC has made it very easy to make contacts quickly here. By attending court and meetings, both Governmental and NGO led, I have met many interesting people who are working in similar fields. As with any internship, you have to be ready to take the initiative, get yourself known and not be afraid to ask to be involved in projects and meetings.

I arrived at the centre expressing an interest in employment law and have conducted research into the problems faced by the increasing numbers of female miners who work in dangerous conditions in South Africa. They report being put on extended maternity leave with no pay when they tell their employers that they are pregnant. This task has been extremely interesting as it has given me the chance to get to grips with a different employment law structure, as well as comparing and contrasting the differences in the maternity provisions of both jurisdictions.

Family law is a huge strength of the WLC and one of their recent cases has highlighted the difficulties faced by women who are married under Islamic Law in South Africa. Currently, these unions are not recognised legally and are deemed to be regulated only by Islamic law. The result is that women can face many legal problems if these marriages break down or their spouse dies. For example, they can encounter problems when trying to exercise their rights in relation to property and children. Last week I witnessed a significant victory for the WLC when they won a case brought on behalf of Ms. Faro; she was finally recognised as the spouse of her deceased husband and her rights to her former marital home were restored.

Future projects include helping to take witness statements in the largest Township in Cape Town, Khayelitsha, and taking part in 16 Days of activism in Cape Town which aims to highlight the need for further Government funding for NGO’s.

The internship at the WLC offers such variety and they are keen that you get out and about to experience different parts of the South African legal system. Each working week presents new challenges and experiences. I suppose the weekends are not too hard to fill either. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with a glass of wine and that view…

Thanks to Sarah Mahony, BPTC student at The City Law School.

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