HISTORY

“The founding of…the LRC in 1979, by Arthur Chaskalson and Felicia Kentridge…represented the triumph of an idea – the belief that lawyers had an especial role and a particular responsibility in the face of gross injustice.”

Justice Cameron
Justice at the Constitutional Court

KEY DATES:

1979
The Legal Resources Centre is established.

1990
Nelson Mandela is released from prison after 27 years.

1994
South Africa has its first democratic elections.

1995
The death penalty is abolished in South Africa.

1996
The final Constitution of South Africa is enacted.

1996
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission begin its hearings.

2001
South Africa’s housing policy is found to be unconstitutional.

2001
The LRC wins its first class action on behalf of people living with disabilities.

2002
The government is ordered to supply anti-retrovirals to South Africans living with HIV/AIDs.

2005
The Constitutional Court suspends the customary practice of male inheritance.

In the aftermath of the 1976 student uprisings, new organisations emerged that were committed to ensuring justice in South Africa, despite an increasingly repressive society. The Legal Resources Centre was established in 1979 by the late Arthur Chaskalson, then senior counsel, and the late Felicia Kentridge, together with others such as Geoff Budlender. On the 22 November 1978, they set up the Legal Resources Trust to fund the Legal Resources Centre. There were initially less than 10 members of staff, but the LRC has grown to over 100 staff today.

In its earliest years, the LRC represented those arrested under the pass laws, which underpinned South Africa’s migrant labour system and supported the apartheid state. As the LRC grew from one to six offices, we also challenged forced removals, evictions, dispossession of land, dismissals from employment, consumer abuse, pension and unemployment insurance abuse and detention without trial under apartheid security legislation.

Shortly after the LRC opened its doors, the apartheid state declared a series of states of emergency, which blanketed South Africa for much of the 1980s. LRC lawyers tested these issues in the courts; sometimes interdicting torture, obtaining the release of persons detained without trial, exposing brutal acts against many people, including children, and claiming damages for these wrongs.

The LRC staff worked through this period of state-sponsored oppression through to the collapse of apartheid. The 1990s saw a substantial change. Nelson Mandela was released from prison, as were hundreds of other political prisoners. The ANC, PAC, SACP and other organisations were unbanned and thousands of exiles returned to South Africa to contribute to the building of the new democratic state.

The democratic elections saw a substantive shift in the possibilities available to our clients. The LRC lawyers assisted in drafting our Bill of Rights and Constitution. Since 1994, the LRC has focused on making the new Constitution the basis for the lived experience of people in South Africa and on building trust between citizens and state. We continue to fight to protect and promote the human rights in the Constitution and contribute to democracy, development and equality.