Our Work

How We Work

We use the law as an instrument to realise human rights.

The LRC brings a breadth of experience and a deep knowledge to our work.

Over the last five decades, we have gained valuable experience in using strategic
litigation, legal reform, research, and advocacy to create positive and long-lasting change in the lives of our beneficiaries.

By providing free, expert, and compassionate legal services to individuals, we have provided many ordinary South Africans with the resources to stand up to injustice.

By working with our extensive network of civil society partners and allies, in the service of vulnerable individuals and communities in South Africa and other African nations, we have successfully created legal precedents and won judgments which have made a tangible impact in the lives of millions of people living in South Africa and beyond.

Our areas of focus have included legal reform of corporal punishment in South Africa, access to land, education, and health care, as well as advancing gender and racial equality and the rights of the disabled. We have also worked with partners and communities in other parts of Africa and the global South to support activists facing similar challenges.

In addition to this legacy work, we have identified land and education rights as key drivers of change in South Africa today. Our experienced and diverse team, working across South Africa, have committed themselves to helping landless people to gain access to land and ensure that our children have access to a quality basic education.

Current Cases

Ensuring the provision of scholar transport for qualifying learners in the Eastern Cape

The right to basic education obliges the state to provide learners with scholar transport where access to school would otherwise be hindered by their distance from their school and their family’s inability to pay for transport.

Since the start of the 2024 academic year, thousands of learners across the Eastern Cape Province who qualify for scholar transport were left stranded by the Eastern Cape Departments of Education and Transport. The LRC is currently representing the Khula Community Development Project and three affected schools, Mneketshe Junior Secondary School; SeaView Senior Secondary School; and Toyise Senior Secondary School, to obtain an urgent interdict compelling the ECDOE and ECDOT to process all outstanding scholar transport applications, ensure the immediate provision of scholar transport to learners who qualify for transport under the province’s scholar transport policy, and devise a plan to ensure that a similar failure does not occur at the start of the 2025 academic year.

This application, Khula Community Development Project and Others vs MEC for Education, Eastern Cape and Others, is another case in a series of matters that the LRC has been involved in to try and address shortcomings in the state’s provision of scholar transport.

“Denying scholar transport to learners is a direct violation of their right to education.
To uphold this right, the scholar transport system needs to work effectively, timeously
and be provided to every eligible child to ensure a safe journey to school.”

– Ona Xolo, LRC Attorney

Seeking clarity on land reform and redistribution in South Africa.

The South African Constitution makes provision for the redistribution of land, but there is currently no legislation that guides how land should be allocated for redistribution and, critically, to whom.

In Bezuidenhout and others vs the Minister for Agriculture, the LRC is representing three sheep farmers in the Beaufort West area, who have approached the court to compel the Minister for Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development to issue them with a 30-year lease in terms of the state’s redistribution programme. The applicants, who are the children of farm workers in the Beaufort West area, have been farming there since 2009, after accessing land through the state’s redistribution programme.

In 2019, they applied to the Department for a 30-year lease over the five farms, but to date their lease has not been issued. Despite initially being approved for the lease, the Chief Director: Western Cape Provincial Shared Services, decided in September 2020, not to award the lease to the applicants, after receiving unsubstantiated allegations that the applicants were being used as a “front” by the previous owner of the farms.

While the application seeks to review and set aside the decision not to award the lease to the applicants, they are also seeking systemic relief that will impact the way redistribution programmes are undertaken in South Africa.

To address the lack of a legal framework that currently exists, the applicants are also asking the court for declaratory relief to address the Department’s failure to create a transparent and consistent legal and policy framework for land redistribution in South Africa. The declaratory relief is supported by the East Cape Agricultural Research Project (ECARP), a non-profit organisation situated in Makhanda in the Eastern Cape.

“This declaratory relief will help other people in the same position as the applicants to better understand and navigate the Department’s redistribution programmes and will compel the Department to amend its processes to create a more transparent system.”

– Cecile van Schalkwyk, LRC Attorney

Advancing children’s rights through access to birth registration

In Cirangashane and Others vs the Minister of Home Affairs, the case concerns the right of every child born in South Africa to have their birth registered immediately or as soon as possible after they are born, no matter the status of their parents.

The South African Constitution entrenches the right of every child to a name and nationality from birth, a right which is met through the registration of their birth with the Department of Home Affairs. Without this a child’s Constitutional right to a name is denied, the risk of statelessness increases, and a child’s ability to obtain
education, health care, and social security is compromised. None of this is in the child’s best interests.

Despite the constitutional importance of birth registration, the current legal regime makes birth registration difficult for several reasons.

  • The Department failing to implement the existing law to allow the registration of children where one parent is a citizen, permanent resident or refugee, but the other parent does not have a valid, unexpired passport, visa or permit
  • The Regulations do not provide for the registration of a child where neither parent is a South African citizen, permanent resident or refugee, and one or both do not have a valid passport, visa or permit
  • The Regulations do not provide for the late registration of children if neither parent is a South African citizen, permanent resident or refugee
  • The Regulations do not provide for adults who were abandoned or orphaned, and do not have their parents’ documents, and were not registered as children, to register their own births

These exclusions contradict the Constitutional guarantee – supported by international law – that every child’s birth must be registered. It is the State’s obligation to facilitate registration, not to punish children for any mistakes by their parents.

Making early-grade literacy a national priority

The LRC is a co-founder of the Right to Read Campaign (#R2R), which aims to hold government accountable for doing everything practically possible to ensure learners can read for meaning by the age of 10.

The 2023 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) results demonstrated that 81% of grade four learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning, in any language. The campaign’s focus is on legislative reform to ensure that the Minister enacts binding reading regulations as part of the right to a basic education. The regulations should clarify, at a minimum, the state’s obligations in relation to teaching time for reading, teacher training for reading, the provision of quality learner and teacher support materials for reading, and regular literacy testing. The potential impact of these regulations is far-reaching.

Importantly, the regulations will be a legal instrument for measuring the performance of the state in relation to reading levels, and to hold them accountable for doing everything practically possible to ensure learners can read for meaning by the age of 10. When implemented, the regulations should dramatically improve the lives of millions of school children.

www.righttoread.org.za

“Not being able to read for meaning by the age of 10 is a gross violation of a school child’s Constitutional right to a basic education.”

– Cameron McConnachie, LRC Attorney

Education

Why education?

The realisation of the right to basic education, as laid out in the South African Constitution, stands to benefit generations of South African children, and alter the trajectory of the future of the country.

Our work in this programme includes:

We have advocated for legislative reform and changes to education policy.

We have worked with government to draft regulations and develop policy, and engaged with public servants to improve mechanisms for faster delivery of educational materials, furniture, transport and infrastructure.

We have successfully litigated in an attempt to overcome resource and administrative obstructions in the provision of quality education.

We have advocated for legislative reform and changes to education policy.

We have worked with government to draft regulations and develop policy,
and engaged with public servants to improve mechanisms for faster delivery of educational materials, furniture, transport and infrastructure.

We have successfully litigated in an attempt to overcome resource and administrative obstructions in the provision of quality education.

Education case study: The Madzodzo case

The Madzodzo case: helping to protect children’s right to a basic education

How we worked with parents, partners, and public officials to get 600 000 desks into schools in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province.

A 2011 government audit found that 1,300 of the Eastern Cape province’s 5,700 state schools lacked adequate furniture, affecting over 605,000 children.

“Many children were sitting on the floor, standing, or squeezing into desks shared with others, making basic reading and writing tasks virtually impossible,” explains attorney Cameron McConnachie, head of the LRC Education Programme.

In Madzodzo vs the Department of Basic Education (2014), the LRC took the South African Department of Education to court in three rounds of litigation, with the end result that the South African High Court declared the government’s failure to address the problem of a lack of desks and chairs in schools a violation of the Constitutional right to a basic education.

The High Court also ordered the government to deliver sufficient desks and chairs to all Eastern Cape schools by 31 May 2014.

“This case is significant because in the judgment the High Court affirmed the right to basic education, as distinct from other socio-economic rights in the South African Constitution, as ‘immediately realisable’. The judgment also stressed that the right to a basic education ‘requires the provision of a range of educational resources’, including desks and chairs, and is not merely a right to a place in a school. Lastly, the judgment set an important precedent by compelling the government accountable for the delivery of its constitutional obligation.”

Land

Why land?

We use strategic litigation, research and law reform to help landless people to gain access to land, and to help those with access to land to secure their right to basic amenities such as clean water and sanitation.

Our work in this area includes three focus areas:

Community access to land and resources

This focus area covers our longstanding work in the area of land reform and restitution, and the rights of persons living in rural areas, especially farmworkers and labour tenants. This area increasingly also includes natural resources for purposes of rural development and food security. Customary law lies at the heart of much of the LRC’s work in this focus area, providing the system of living rules that entitle customary communities to govern themselves according to custom and to have access to resources such as land, forestry, and marine resources.

Enviromental justice

This focus area concerns the LRC’s work in relation to all aspects of the protection and regulation of the environment and ensuring that communities share the benefits and burdens of the environment in a just manner. In this context, key concerns include energy, access to safe water, waste and the impact of mining on communities.

Housing, evictions and local government planning

This focus area covers housing and basic services in urban areas, from small towns to metropolitan cities. In the context of housing, evictions in urban contexts have historically been a significant part of the LRC’s litigation. Increasingly, the LRC focuses on housing delivery and the planning and other obligations of local government, as well as combatting fraudulent schemes that threaten security of tenure.

Community access to land and resources

This focus area covers our longstanding work in the area of land reform and restitution, and the rights of persons living in rural areas, especially farmworkers and labour tenants. This area increasingly also includes natural resources for purposes of rural development and food security. Customary law lies at the heart of much of the LRC’s work in this focus area, providing the system of living rules that entitle customary communities to govern themselves according to custom and to have access to resources such as land, forestry, and marine resources.

Enviromental justice

This focus area concerns the LRC’s work in relation to all aspects of the protection and regulation of the environment and ensuring that communities share the benefits and burdens of the environment in a just manner. In this context, key concerns include energy, access to safe water, waste and the impact of mining on communities.

Housing, evictions and local government planning

This focus area covers housing and basic services in urban areas, from small towns to metropolitan cities. In the context of housing, evictions in urban contexts have historically been a significant part of the LRC’s litigation. Increasingly, the LRC focuses on housing delivery and the planning and other obligations of local government, as well as combatting fraudulent schemes that threaten security of tenure.

Land case study: Tribal levies case

Challenging unjust tribal levies in South Africa

Why we are working to free 20 million of South Africa’s poorest people from the unconstitutional practice of tribal levies demanded by traditional authorities.

In many parts of South Africa people are being forced to pay levies and taxes to their traditional authorities. These taxes are often arbitrary, taking the form of an annual levy or a levy for a specific purpose, such as a chief’s new car or wedding. If people are unable to pay, they are punished: often by being refused proof of address letters that they need to get an identity document, open a bank account or access practically any service.

The LRC is challenging this outdated practice as clearly unconstitutional. In particular, we are representing community members from ten communities in the Limpopo province of South Africa.


“While the case is being brought in Limpopo, we have been approached by communities in Mpumalanga, North West, KZN and Eastern Cape about this practice,” says Wilmien Wicomb, LRC Attorney.

“If our clients are successful, we will ensure that about 20 million South Africans – often some of our poorest communities – are freed from this practice.”

Legacy

Why legacy?

Our legacy work includes protecting and defending civil, political and socio-economic rights.

Our work in this area includes:

Equality & non-discrimination

Openness and accountability

Refugees, asylum seekers & migrant protections

Access to justice and civil society support

Equality & non-discrimination

Openness and accountability

Refugees, asylum seekers & migrant protections

Access to justice and civil society support

Legacy case study: Silicosis class action

South Africa’s largest class action case sees justice for those suffering from silicosis and TB

R320 million paid to 3 598 claimants in historic silicosis class action case.

In 2013 a class action case was launched by the Legal Resources Centre in partnership with Abrahams Kiewitz Attorneys and Richard Spoor Attorneys (claimants attorneys) on behalf of mineworkers suffering from silicosis, a disease affecting the lungs.

The hearing of the silicosis class certification application was held from 12-23 October 2015 at the High Court in Johannesburg. Judgment in the certification application was delivered by the full bench on 13 May 2016, which set the scene for the largest class action in South Africa’s history.

The mining companies applied for leave to appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal. The appeal was going to be heard in March 2018; however, prior to and after the May 2016 court hearing, various meetings were held between all the legal representatives to pursue the possibility of a settlement. This resulted in a settlement with six mining companies, which withdrew their appeals when the settlement agreement became final, with the high court approving the settlement as fair, adequate and in the interests of the class members.

In November 2019, the settlement resulted in the creation of the Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payments to any employees who – between 12 March 1965
and 10 December 2019 – worked at any of the 82 gold mines listed in the settlement agreement and who had contracted silicosis or TB due to their work. These employees are potentially eligible for compensation.

On 7 April 2022, after one year of the Trust’s claims management system being in place, the Tshiamiso Trust stated that it had paid out claims amounting to more than R320 million to over 3 598 eligible claimants.

“We welcome this progress on behalf of the thousands of people who suffer from silicosis and TB due to their work and we renew our commitment to all potential silicosis claimants, says Sipesihle Mguga, LRC Attorney.

The remaining appeal

Only two mining companies – DRDGold Limited and ERPM – have appealed the class certification judgment after the settlement order. While the appeal
is moving forward, many silicosis claimants will have already lost their lives to their ailments. Should the appeal be dismissed, the LRC will need to decide
whether to continue with the trial on behalf of the class representatives who worked for these mining companies.This will take many years, and further silicosis claimants may pass away. Therefore, the greater importance remains in the argument for transmissibility of general damages so that the family members left behind will have a claim in the event that the subsequent trial is successful. The LRC has chosen to oppose the appeal and will argue an important aspect raised during the certification application: the development of the common law on transmissibility of general damages.

Advocacy

The LRC’s advocacy projects aim to raise awareness, bolster research, stimulate public debate and discourse, and build momentum in public opinion on some of today’s most pressing human rights issues.

Sexual and reproductive health rights

Sexual and reproductive health rights
We aim to raise awareness on the sexual and reproductive health rights
of girls and the crucial role of education in these rights to empower girls
to make informed decisions about their bodies and health.
We have created four resources on sexual and reproductive health rights
in education for girl learners.

  • Our research report considers the importance of education on sexual and reproductive health rights and protection from gender- based and sexual violence and evaluates the efficacy of existing policies and curriculum content.
  • Our research report can be downloaded here.
  • Our training manual is aimed at teaching girl learners about their sexual and reproductive health rights. We provide child-friendly and scientifically accurate information on topics such as what it means to have sexual and reproductive rights, puberty, consent, sexual assault, HIV and other STIs.
  • Our training manual can be downloaded here.
  • Our factsheet on SRHR can be downloaded here.
  • Our toolkit captures the content of the training manual, in a simplified user-friendly video format and can be downloaded here.

The right to protest

Know your rights: the right to protest

The purpose of this project is threefold: to raise awareness about the laws regulating the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of association, how people can exercise these rights and how to lay a complaint against the state or the police in the case of police brutality experienced while participating in a gathering or protest.

Guidelines on right to freedom of assembly and association

The right to protest is a fundamental right in South Africa and serves as a bedrock to our democracy. The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa confirms the right to protest. This right is envisaged in section 17 of the Constitution. Everyone has the right to assembly, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions. This right is regulated by the Regulations of Gatherings Act 205 of 1993. The RGA works on the basis that citizens and organisations have a right to protest and then sets out circumstances in which this right may be exercised.

Given the importance of the right to protest in South Africa, the LRC has developed a toolkit to provide information and educate on the content of this right to protest. The toolkit is intended to serve as a resource for use by organisations, students, activists, or any other persons who wish to partake in protests, register their community organisation, or learn more about the right to freedom of association and the right to freedom of assembly in South Africa. Download the Toolkit Here

A guide for organisers and conveners

Who can convene a protest?

According to South African law, everyone has a right to protest, including persons who are under 18 years. Anyone can convene a protest.

Difference between demonstration and gathering The Gatherings Act differentiates between a ‘gathering’ and a ‘demonstration’.

A demonstration is defined as including ‘any demonstration by one or more persons, but not more than 15 persons, for or against any person, cause, action or failure to take action.

For this type of protest (demonstration), you do not need to file a notice.

A gathering is defined as ‘any assembly, concourse or procession of more than 15 persons in or on any public road or any other public place or premises wholly or partly open to the air. For a gathering, you will need to file for a notice before convening.

When to file a notice?

According to the Gatherings Act, the convener of gatherings must give notice of the gathering seven days before the proposed date to gather. The notice must be given to the local authority. Your duty is only to give notice and you do not need to wait for a response from the responsible officer, you may proceed with a gathering as long as you give prior notice. FILING NOTICE IS SUFFICIENT, YOU NEED NOT RECEIVE A RESPONSE.

NOTE: Failure to give notice is no longer an offense. If you get arrested for not giving notice, the arrest is unlawful.

Where do you file a notice?

You can file a notice with a designated officer at your local authority. If there is no local authority available, you may give the notice to the magistrate of the district. What to do when police harass and intimidate you Police are not supposed to harass or intimidate you for protesting, they are only responsible to ensure that protestors are adequately protected. When an officer assaults/intimidates and harasses you, ensure that you document the incident and report it. Recite and confirm your rights to the officer. You may not be arrested for peaceful protesting. Always refrain from damaging public and private property when protesting as that is a criminal offense. You must always protest and convey your message without violence.

Historic right Protesting, picketing, and demonstration hold a historic significance in South Africa.

Pre-1994, protests were a tool used by the marginalised groups who lived during the times of a thoroughly wicked political system – apartheid. Then, the protest was geared towards dismantling injustices perpetrated by the apartheid system and thus have contributed immensely to the birth of democratic South Africa. Protests can and do bring social-political change – they bring social problems to the public eye and can be effective in bringing about change. Apartheid South Africa had a history of repressing and criminalising protests. The architects of the South African democracy chose a way of breaking away from the ways of the past and recognized protesting as a basic human right for all.

Significance of protests today Protests are a catalyst for social change in South Africa.

The rights to protest, picket and demonstrate, form the tenets of South Africa’s constitutional democracy and are key rights for accountability and advancement of rights. Research shows that protest is often the last resort which communities turn to when other participatory mechanisms have failed. The right to protest is an essential tool for political expression and a crucial mechanism through which dissatisfied groups can voice their grievances. In recent years South Africa has seen widely documented #ServiceDeliveryProtest, the #FeesMustFall, the #MarikanaMassacre, and #RhodesMustFall. These are protests that was so reminiscent of the pre-1994 protests geared towards social change. Even though South Africa is now a democratic state there are still injustices that are faced by various groups who take up protesting as a tool to voice out their concerns and s means to effect change.

Important laws that protect your rights:

  • The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 [READ MORE]
  • The Regulation of Gatherings ACT 205 OF 1993 [READ MORE]
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [READ MORE]
  • African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights [READ MORE]
  • African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly [READ MORE]
  • African Commission Guidelines for the Policing of Assemblies by Law Enforcement Officials in Africa [READ MORE]

Important case authority In the case of Mlungwana and Others v The State and Another (known as ‘SJC10’), the Constitutional Court dealt with the criminalisation of a convener’s failure to give adequate notice to the local municipality when convening a gathering of more than 15 people. Section 12(1)(a) criminalised the failure to give notice of a gathering. The Constitutional Court decided that section 12(1) of the RGA is inconsistent with the Constitution and thus invalid. This interpretation promotes fundamental freedoms. The Mlungwana case is a landmark case that reinforces and confirms your right to protest.

Stop torture project

Put a stop to torture


The purpose of this project is to raise awareness about torture and the use of certain tools that are used for the advancement of torture.

The main objective is to enable victims or other persons to lodge a report on behalf of victims.

This project aims to prevent future incidents of torture and ill-treatment, increase accountability for prior incidents and contribute to reparation for survivors through a distinctive focus on the use and trade of the tools of torture used to perpetrate such acts.

The project is funded by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) under its Prevention of Torture strand of work, and runs for three years from April 2018 to March 2021.