by Pamela Maringa

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) brought a number of leaders from faith-based organisations (FBOs) together at the the Jesuit Institute in Auckland Park last week. National Director of LRC, Janet Love, initiated the meeting. Her idea was to bring together FBO’s and public interest law clinics to kick start conversations and, hopefully, collaboration so that they can assist disadvantaged persons and communities access justice.

LRC organised the roundtable meeting to hear how FBOs deal with issues related to social justice in the many places of the country where they are present. They wanted to explore how, together with the work that is already being done within individual and collaborative FBO structures, they can offer recourse and support from LRC.

LRC has a vision of and aspires towards a fully democratic and equal society. It promotes justice by using the constitution, building respect for the rule of law and contributing towards social-economic transformation within South Africa. It functions as an independent client-based non-profit law clinic. It uses the law as an instrument to ensure justice and it provides legal services for the vulnerable and marginalized. It does so in partnerships with other organizations – like FBOs.

LRC is present in numerous places and wants to extend its services. The organisation has identified particular concerns, programmes and opportunities for collaboration in order to see that the poorest people of our country are able to be reached and to obtain the support they need.

There were a number of issues that were brought to the table at the gathering of FBOs. These were issues like migrants and refugees and the persistent threat of xenophobia. Jesuit Refugee Services’ Samson Ogunyemi highlighted the ongoing problems that migrants and refugees face in SA today. “Their basic rights are regularly violated,” he said.

Director of the Church Land Programme (CLP), Graham Philpott, spoke on land issues. He said that we need to learn from those who are “systematically excluded and impoverished in their struggles related to land and justice”.

Another issue which was addressed was gender-based violence and abuse. Director of the South African Faith and Family Institute (SAFFI), Elizabeth Petersen, said that SAFFI deals with raising awareness around the persistent agony caused by gender-based violence.

Shayk Muneer Abdroaf of the Muslim Judicial Council gave input on how the Muslim community is helping people who have no access to health care get primary health care.

Issues like empowering the youth, skills development and education were also part of the conversation.

Many challenges face FBOs’ and the need to collaborate was stressed. Many times FBOs are on the frontline and need legal services. LRC committed themselves to assisting wherever they could and asked FBOs to do the same.

I come from a community where an abused woman often comes out of a divorce with nothing; or a foreigner is kicked out of their accommodation just because there are foreigners. Often nothing is said or done in these types of situations.

FBOs can do a lot to help. They can be the link that helps people access what they need. They can promote reconciliation and strengthen relationships between communities. They can also help the marginalized access law clinics, paralegals and the services of other FBOs.

The FBO leaders at the gathering welcomed the beginning and deepening of collaboration with each other and the LRC. They committed to going back to their constituencies to share what they had heard and find ways of collaborating better. The gathering also agreed to find ways of keeping the communication between them open in the future. The participants requested a follow-up meeting in the next few months.