South Africa Human Rights Clinic

A new overseas experiential learning course began this summer. The South Africa Human Rights Clinic offered six students the opportunity to travel to Johannesburg Africa to work for five weeks in different human rights and public interest law organisations.

Students prepared for the course with a workshop looking at South African history, its legal system and its Bill of Rights. They considered issues such as ethics, professionalism, and various practical legal skills. The students also attended a dinner and discussion with A/Prof Andrea Durbach about the film ‘A Common Purpose’ based on a famous Apartheid trial in which she represented some of the accused.

Once in South Africa, the students settled into their graduate apartments at the University of the Witwatersrand and were taken on a walking tour of the inner city, a visit to the Apartheid Museum and a tour of Constitution Hill and the Constitutional Court. The students then began working for five different organisations including the Legal Resources Centre (a renowned public interest law firm), Section 27 (dealing with social and economic rights advocacy and litigation), the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (a university based research, advocacy and litigation centre), ProBono.Org (an organization that offers legal services to the poor provided by volunteers from private law firms), and the Southern African Litigation Centre (dealing with human rights issues in countries in the broader region).

Students will be assessed by their organisations as well as by the convener based on their work, reflective journal entries, a memorandum on a substantive legal issue and their final presentations in February. Half way through the Clinic, the students are having a fascinating time both within their placements and outside of them.

On the work side, the students have been thrilled at the high level of the responsibilities they have been entrusted with and the diversity of issues they are involved in. Some of the cases include assisting a group evicted from a building who are now living under a highway bridge, working on a big mine violence enquiry, assisting in clinics at the Labour Court, researching the right to food, education, and the environment, and considering issues of international criminal law. Students say that that they are also very excited to be learning many practical skills such as interviewing vulnerable clients, drafting legal documents and planning strategic litigation.

On the fun side, the group has toured Soweto, the famous township outside of Johannesburg, seen local theatre and music, watched the African Cup (soccer), and will be going to Cape Town for a weekend.

The students seem to be burning the candle at both ends as they try to get the most out what they describe as an ‘amazing’ and ‘life-changing’ opportunity.

Participants in the South Africa Human Rights Clinic were: Verity Smith, Chantal Tanner, Laura O’Reilly, Lucy Geddes, Beth Goldblatt (course convener), Shaun Croner, and Nikki Edwards.

 

Beth will be presenting a summary of the trip at the Human Rigths Tertiary Teachers' Workshop.

students in SA

Students at the prison cells on Constitution Hill that housed famous freedom fighters such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.