Law & Human Rights in South Africa by Alyssa Buttrum-Virco
I stumbled across the Projects Abroad Law & Human Rights project by chance. As many of my peers were about to start clerkships I was looking for something to do over the summer, and volunteering was the only thing that I had a desire to do.
After my induction at the Cape Town office, it was straight to work. South Africa has a significant annual intake of asylum seeker claims and for this reason a lot of the cases related to refugee law. These cases were extremely challenging at times, especially when dealing with a client from areas of on-going conflict like the DRC. However this is a unique experience for future lawyers, as you quickly learn to treat each case with an emotional distance.
Aside from refugee law, I also dealt with cases in family law, employment law and criminal law. The criminal law case was one that gave me the opportunity to observe in court.
Overall, the level of autonomy when working on legal cases was seriously unexpected for me, as well as the calibre of task you are entrusted with. I was required to draft outlines of submissions and heads of arguments for refugee appeals cases, and unfair dismissal hearings.
I was also conducting client interviews without supervision. The opportunities you get at PAHRO to develop legal skills and gain exposure to practical client interactions was incredible.
There is also a great opportunity to develop legal research skills; I was required to complete information booklets for the office on the application and hearing process for the Equality Courts in Cape Town, as well as making sure all case law and reputable reports on current conflicts is up to date.
Time management between cases is something you learn very quickly as well. Your case load can go from 3 to 20 in a day, as it all depends on how many walk in clients come in for a consult. It is important to stay on top of everything and balance priorities.
Social justice at PAHRO
As well as legal services, PAHRO runs a social justice programme. This includes visiting the female and male juvenile detention centres Vredelus and Bonnytoun. We work on a presentation during the week to show the kids, as well as interactive activities to do in smaller groups after.
There is also a programme with St Anne’s Home and Sisters Incorporated, two shelters for abused women. This was a female only activity, for obvious reasons. Basically we would visit each shelter once a week for a couple of hours. Again this included a presentation and activity. We would gather information on a topic the women would ask us to look into, and tell them about it the following visit.
Some presentations done while I was at PAHRO included information on housing projects, how to get scholarships, free education for children and discussing news articles on the 20th anniversary of Democracy in South Africa. There were also some cases picked up from visits with the shelters. The activities would be things like yoga and painting nails; things that would encourage the women to come out of their shells and feel comfortable when getting to know new volunteers.
Capricorn primary school was the third social justice programme. There are classes for grades 5, 6 and 7. Each class would have one life skills lesson per week. These lessons are very important, as no one else is able to teach them to the children. We would prepare lessons in line with the curriculum. The books provide the information and we would present it to the kids in fun, interactive and informative ways.
Free time in Cape Town
Cape Town is an unbelievable place to visit, there is always something fantastic to do! The garden route was one of my favourite things, travelling a few hours up the coast towards Durban, with heaps of things to do on the way. Bungee jumping, a lion walk, cave exploring, game drives and elephant rides.
It was also a great opportunity to get to know volunteers in our office and on other projects. Of course there is also Table Mountain, shark cage diving, abseiling tours, paragliding and hiking Lions Head. That doesn’t even scratch the surface really, but it is an incredible place to work and stay.
This internship was a turning point for me in my degree, without it I wouldn’t have the drive I do now. Whether your interest is humanitarian or commercial, I think this internship is an incredible opportunity for all law students to gain autonomous practical experience.