The Friends of the Legal Resources Centre of South Africa assists the Legal Resources Centre financially, contributes to its work through joint initiatives, and helps publicize its accomplishments in the United States and globally.
LRC attorneys provide legal services without charge to the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized throughout South Africa. With offices in Cape Town, Durban, Grahamstown, and Johannesburg, the LRC uses a range of creative legal strategies, including impact litigation, law reform, participation in partnerships and development processes, education, and networking within South Africa, throughout the African continent, and at the international level.
Early LRC History
In its earliest years, the LRC took the lead in opposing apartheid law. At that time, the South African government strictly enforced pass laws that separated families and controlled the day-to-day movements and employment of black citizens. The LRC challenged these laws in court. In one case, a married woman had the right by birth under apartheid to live in a certain town. Her husband had the right to live in the same town by virtue of his employment. But a local government official said the man was not entitled to live in his wife’s house and must instead live in a single men’s hostel. It took the intervention of the LRC to overrule the bureaucrat’s ruling. These early cases had a profound impact on hundreds of thousands of people and contributed to the repeal of the pass laws.
As South Africa moved toward the end of apartheid, lawyers from the LRC played integral roles in drafting the new Constitution and crafting a new legal framework for the young democracy. In 1994, the LRC established a Constitutional Litigation Unit in its quest to establish the rights envisioned in the new Constitution. The LRC successfully argued before South Africa’s Constitutional Court that the death penalty is unconstitutional, the right to counsel exists, and prisoners have the right to vote. In a settlement regarding the right of children in South Africa to education, the government agreed to establish regulations mandating that every school in South Africa must meet an acceptable level of infrastructure. Other cases include Government of the Republic of South Africa and Others v. Grootboom and Others, where the LRC’s lawyers successfully argued before the Constitutional Court that the government was required to provide temporary relief for those in desperate need of access to housing.
“ . . . [I]t was a system of discrimination, brutal repression, all mediated through the law. It couldn’t be done unless there was a law which said it could be done. . .The judges were independent in the sense that they didn’t take instructions from government. They were all white. They were almost all male. They almost all carried with them the prejudices of white males in South Africa. Yet they weren’t taking instructions. They wouldn’t get a phone call from a cabinet minister telling them to decide a case in a particular way and they would have been offended if they had received it. But they didn’t need it in most cases. Yet there was a measure of intellectual honesty in the system and so it was possible to say to a judge, actually, this is unlawful. Never mind the politics, this is unlawful. It is not consistent with the law. And what we were interested in doing is saying ok, if that premise is correct, if we are right in our assumptions that the courts will operate in a relatively intellectually honest way, are there spaces in the law which make it possible to take on and challenge elements of apartheid systematically, which will create other consequences?” – LRC co-founder Geoff Budlender, interviewed by Charlayne Hunter-Gault in Cape Town, February 2006
The LRC was established in 1979 with the financial support of three American foundations – the Carnegie Corporation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. When four distinguished Americans – Lloyd Cutler, Erwin Griswold, Louis Loss, and Bernard Segal – learned that Arthur Chaskalson, Geoff Budlender, and Felicia Kentridge intended, during the height of apartheid, to establish what would become the LRC, they decided to establish a U.S. charitable organization, now known as the Friends of the Legal Resources Centre of South Africa, hopeful that the FoLRC might offer some level of protection to LRC lawyers and staff during those dangerous days.