Article by Christina Hyatali
Specific Activities arranged by the UWC Legal Clinic
Along with our daily activities we also had specific excursions arranged by Mr. Jassiem in conjunction with the UWC Legal Aid clinic. The first of these excursions was a meeting with Legal Aid South Africa. This meeting was to re-‐negotiate the services provided by the UWC legal aid clinic. We were able to go to the Legal Aid South Africa main offices in Cape Town and for the first time in my trip I realised exactly how large the reach of legal aid was as the organisation provided specific and extensive help to the citizens of the various townships in and around Cape Town.
I also undertook a trip to the Magistrate’s Court in Mitchell’s Plain, a township near to the University. At the Magistrates Court I sat in on a number of hearings from domestic abuse to malicious damage of property to being caught smoking cannabis or “tuk” as the locals know it. Additionally we were given a tour of the male and female holding cells in the court and were also given the opportunity to talk with some of the inmates of the famous Pollsmoor prison. This was a particularly eye-opening experience as the inmates gave me a particularly detailed summary of the gang culture in the prisons.
One Pollsmoor inmate in particular described to me how the gangs were broken into three different factions, the 26s, 27s and 28s. The numbers each represented different crimes that an individual had to commit in order to inducted into a specific gang. The 26s were known as the thieves, to be a part of the 27s you had to draw blood and to be part of the 28s you had to commit a murder. The inmate did express is displeasure with the gang culture but did also reiterate that it is part of their daily life inside the prison and outside and the only way out of the gangs was by death. There is no doubt that the prison system in South Africa fosters the gang culture and that without some sort of serious reformation an already growing problem will become even more out of control.
Along with the Magistrates court we also attended the Guglethu township community court. The Community courts were an initiative started by the government to curtail crime with the idea that if you wipe out crimes at a lower level it would be wiped out at a higher level.
The community court deals with petty crimes and would usually give punishments for the betterment of the community such as maintaining the community garden. While I do agree this is a good initiative, the criminals in the community courts have the fact that they were charged with a criminal conviction placed on their record.
This criminal conviction makes it significantly difficult for persons who were charged with petty crimes to apply for government-‐based jobs such as joining the police force. It is my opinion that if the crime and punishment is merely a minor offence without a significant impact on society then a full criminal conviction should not be placed on a person’s criminal record for such minor circumstances as it would impede those who attempt to better their lives when seeking employment.
In addition to our legal based activities, our clinic director also took us on a variety of special non-‐legal based excursions. Our first excursion was to Seal Island off the coast of Cape Town. There we were able to see the breeding ground for the seals that frequent the coast of the Cape Town’s coastal areas. There we were also lucky enough to spot a few humpback wales while enjoying the beautiful picturesque views of the coast of South Africa. Our second excursion was to the Cape of Good Hope, where we ate fish and chips in one of the local fishing villages then we hiked to the furthest point of South Africa where we were able to see the Indian and Atlantic oceans merge in a brilliant pool of light and colour. I was able to see the South Africa in all of its natural beauty and to see all the great potential that this beautiful country has.
Activities with the UWC Street Law group
The UWC Street Law group was an initiative started by a group of dedicated students who worked in the Legal Clinic. They undertake various activities reaching out to different members of society who would not normally have access to any sort of legal education. Activities that were undertaken included: weekly trips to Pollsmoor prison to work with some of their juvenile inmates, a visit to the Worcester ladies correctional facility and as we were in Cape town for the month of August which is women’s month we took part in a number of activities celebrating women’s month in the different communities.
Our first weekend in Cape Town was a long weekend with women’s day being held on the Friday. This is a national holiday for all South Africans and its significance is rooted in the struggle of the apartheid era. On 9th August 1956, more than 50,000 women marched in Pretoria to protest against the pass laws of 1950. These pass laws made it obligatory for any coloured or black person to carry an identification pass and if a person was found not be carrying their pass, they faced serious consequences ranging from a fine to jail time.
The women who were marching in Pretoria left bundles of petitions at the prime minister’s office doors. Once outside they stood silent for 30 minutes, many with their children on their backs. The women sang a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Wathint’Abafazi Wathint’imbokodo! “you strike a woman, you strike a rock”. Since then this phrase has come to represent women’s courage and strength in South Africa.
The Street Law group held a Women’s day celebration in one of the smaller suburbs near to the university called Heideveld. They invited over 50 female members of the community and organised a fun-‐filed day with games activities and lunch. One of my favourite things on the day was a skit that they performed explaining the significance of the holiday in which we were also able to take part in. It was lovely to see the students come together with the members of the community and provide them with a day that was both enjoyable and entertaining.
Further to the women’s day celebrations in Heideveld we also went to the Worcester women’s correctional facility. There a special day with different events was put on for the female prisoners. These events included a talk by the justice department of South Africa as well as a performance in Afrikaans by a group of local performers as well as singing and dancing.
The prisoners cooked a special meal for us as their guests and we were given a tour of the prison. The prison itself was very impressive, it was apparent that there was an active effort to reform the women in the prison as they were taught different skills such as sewing and were given the opportunity to study. In fact an inmate could even win a bursary to study after their time was served. We were able to see the cells of the infamous Dina Rodrigues who was convicted of having a hired a killer to kill her boyfriend’s child. It was a truly eye opening and highly interesting day
An additional activity that we undertook with the street law group was a trip back to Heideveld to work with kids whose parents were in a rehabilitation centre. This was not particularly strenuous as the kids were of a younger age group but rather enjoyable to play with the kids whom we did simple activities with such as teaching what was right from what was wrong.
For me the most interesting activity we were a part of was the weekly trip to Pollsmoor prison. Pollsmoor prison has to be the most well known prison in South Africa. It houses the various members of the numbers gangs. The members of the UWC street law group would work with the teenage inmates every Tuesday evening. They would teach the inmates about their legal rights such as the right to appeal or the right to different types of sentencing. These lessons were made to be both fun and interactive for the prisoners who seemed genuinely interested in what they were learning and seemed to be taking on board what they were being taught. What was apparent on our trips to Pollsmoor was the gang culture, this permeated even amongst the teenage inmates some of whom had the number of the gangs that they were members of tattooed on their faces. I particularly enjoyed these trips as this was something I had never experienced before and I realised how important it was for us all to be educated and provide education about out basic legal rights to those who were never afforded the opportunity to do so
During this internship, I learned a great deal about the South African legal system and a great deal about the law has changed and evolved in this interesting country. I learned about law in a practical context through my many activities with the UWC Street law group and the research I carried out in the clinic helped consolidate my learning on civil procedure and broaden my understanding of Human Rights. Through the client consultations and visits to the different courts in Cape Town I was able to look at the different intricacies in how the law is applied in South Africa in comparison to the UK. I believe this experience helped provide me with insight into the type of work and the way work should be conducted in my imminent career as a solicitor. I believe that my experience at the UWC legal clinic contributed to both my personal and professional development and I hope to take all of the experience I have learned in this past month and apply it to all of my future endeavors.
Christina Hyatali, a native of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean has an LLB in English and Spanish law from the University of Kent in Canterbury. She recently completed the LPC in the City Law School. She has particular interest in the areas of family law and commercial dispute resolution. She is currently pursuing her legal training in Trinidad.