The Issues of Public Interest Law

Public interest legal organisations in South Africa work on a broad range of issues, typically involving the advancement and protection of the rights of vulnerable and marginalised people, and holding powerful actors to account.

Read more about the full PILS 2015 report here, Public Interest Legal Services in South Africa

Issues we address

Poverty remains deep and widespread throughout South Africa. Although poverty levels lowered between 2006 and 2011, Stats SA reports that poverty levels rose again in 2015. According to data released by Stats SA in 2015, 30.4 million South Africans (55.5% of the population) continue to live in poverty.

Access to social assistance grants remains vitally important to address poverty in South Africa. Public interest legal services have played an important role in ensuring a less discriminatory and more procedurally fair social security regime. Civil society action, which has included legal action or the threat of it, has played an important role in achieving the expansion of the social security net.

If a multidimensional approach to poverty eradication is adopted, then public interest legal services which seek to advance access to a social goods other than grants, education, housing, healthcare and so on, become important in considering the impact of legal services on poverty reduction.

Areas of Intervention:

Areas of Intervention:

South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world, where wealth is increasingly retained in the hands of a few.  South Africa has the highest inequality between racial groups in the world, however the level of income inequality continues to rise not only between races but also intra-race. Gender is still a clear predictor of wealth, income and social status. Rich men are richer than rich women, poor women are poorer than poor men. Gender-based violence remains rife.

Public interest legal services can address the core structural patterns of inequality by pressing for increased provision of education, healthcare, housing and basic services.

Areas of Intervention:

Race remains a strong predictor of unemployment. An analysis of unemployment trends shows how the racialised nature of poverty and inequality has not shifted very much in the last 20 years. In 2011, approximately 42.4% of black Africans were unemployed, whereas only 8.2% of whites were unemployed. Coloured, Asian and white workers are consistently more likely to be employed than their black African counterparts.

Civil society is yet to develop a shared critique of the economic path currently being pursued by the South African state, but there can be little doubt that the South African state is pursuing an orthodox economic policy that places limitations its ability to achieve social transformation. Economic orthodoxy arguably keeps unemployment artificially high, and stifles the growth of labour intensive industry.

The relationship between economic policy and social transformation remains an important area for further research and action.

Areas of Intervention:

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