The first and last resort

Capacity Building for Community Based Advice Offices

The first and last resort

Project Story


The South African Government has pledged to create a development-orientated public service by 2014. But the battle for basic living conditions such as housing, electricity and clean water continues for most South Africans, amid increased inequality. Social Cohesion and Social Justice in South Africa, a report released by the Department of Arts and Culture in 2012, defines social justice as “the extension of principles, enshrined in our Constitution, of human dignity, equity, and freedom to participate in all of the political, socio-economic and cultural spheres of society”. The report argues that “the success of the transition, and the transformation of our society, will obviously be measured in terms of the degree of achievement of social justice” but concludes that “social justice remains a challenge and the issue of development and underdevelopment constitute the biggest threat to social cohesion and social capital”.

Community Advice Offices (CAO) served as centres for resistance in communities during Apartheid. Advice offices have now become centres of democracy and assist people in accessing their rights. As community-based institutions through which paralegal services are rendered to the public free of charge, they assist directly in facilitating access to justice. Their services include legal advice on issues of unfair dismissals, sub-standard service by service providers, consumer protection, interpretation of legislation and government policy, helping with accessing State services such as Birth Certificates, ID applications and Social Grants. They are also able to escalate matters when necessary by referring cases to Legal Aid South Africa, university legal clinics or public interest lawyers. Most Advice Offices address specific socio-economic problems affecting the community and are usually staffed by people from within the community.


The Greater Molweni Community Resource Centre (GMCRC) is a community-based organisation established as an NPO in 1993 to assist people in the Kwadedangendlale area with human rights issues. The GMCRC provides free paralegal services to indigent people, community development initiatives and facilitation, human rights education, HIV/AIDS counselling and education, and networking, lobbying and advocacy on behalf of the communities it serves.


This funded four workshops – Women’s Conversations and Girl-Child Conversations – aimed at providing women and girl-children with a safe space to tell their stories of trauma, violence, crime and the violation of their rights, and to break the cultural taboo of silence about domestic violence and abuse. A Men and Sons Conversation focused on violence against women and children, the Domestic Violence Act, and human rights.


The KwaMashu Community Resource Centre (KMCRC) was established in 1990 by local churches and the Diakonia Council of Churches and became an independent, community-based organisation in the mid 1990s, now including community development, lobbying and advocacy work. The centre provides services to a community of about 500 000 residents, most of whom are youth, women, HIV/AIDS orphans, child-headed households and pensioners.


Attended 10-day paralegal and organisational skills training programme. This was received through the capacity-building programme for Community Based Advice Offices. 


Nonhlanhla Mfuzi, 37, presses her throat. Beneath the pretty scarf she wears a voice apparatus that enables her to speak.

“I was injured in 1997. My boyfriend cut my throat. He left me in the dark, to die. I went to hospital for a month. I reported the attempted murder to the KwaMashu police station and the docket disappeared; I was told to re-open the case. I did this and the docket disappeared again. My story was in the newspaper but it did not make a difference. I worked as a domestic worker but I was too weak to work. I came to the KwaMashu Advice Office in 2003 and they helped me to get a Disability Grant for two years. It was then cut off. I have been coming to the Advice Office all the time and the officers write letters for me I am unable to work because I am struggling to breathe. Yes, I am in a lot of pain.”