Plessislaer Advice Office
Tel: 033 398 0194
Theresa Thusi and Khanyi Singh. Theresa has worked at the advice office since 1999, and Khanyi since 2005.
648 sq km
Plessislaer Advice Office reaches the townships of Plessislaer, Imbali, France, Edendale and Sobantu, as well as the rural communities of KwaPata, Dambuza, eSigodini, Smero, Nhlazatshe, Georgetown, Ashdown, Machibisa, Caluza, Taylor’s Halt, Kwamncane, Emafakathini, Kwampande, Entembeni, Kwadulela, Sweetwaters, Kwamgwagwa and Kwamtnoqotho.
Plessislaer was the first advice office to be established, in 1997, and is the only office close to a city. Plessislaer is a township on the western edge of Pietermaritzburg. According to the Msunduzi Local Municipality, this area is a mixture of informal settlements, including many shacks, and townships with basic brick houses. Even though there are industrial activities, the majority of people are unemployed and are relatively poor. Other areas of employment are domestic work, subsistence farming and the state civil service.
Economically, more than 70% of households earn less than R1 600 per month. These high levels of poverty exist in all areas within Pietermaritzburg. However, they are more concentrated in this western area.
According to Statistics South Africa, the population of the Msunduzi Local Municipality is 679 800. The municipality is a mixture of urban development and informal settlements, and many areas are characterized by poverty and a lack of basic services. 33% of people are unemployed, with youth unemployment standing at 43%. 68% of people are aged 15-64, 27% are under 5, and 5% are over 65. 81% of the overall population is Black, 10% Asian, 6% White and 3% Coloured. 34% of people have a Matric certificate, 92% of homes are connected to electricity, and 48% of houses have piped water. 74% of dwellings are described as formal.
In 2016, the office dealt with 581 new cases, with the most common being legal advice on obtaining financial rights and documents, domestic violence and problems of drug abuse and misbehaving children. Staff conducted mediations that successfully resolved 56 cases, and helped 34 women to obtain protection orders.
62% of clients aged 19-59 were unemployed and only 38% were working. 32% of clients were male and 68% were female, 85% were aged 19-59, 10% were over 60 and 4% were children.
Interview with Theresa Thusi
How long have you worked for the advice office?
What led you to become a community-based paralegal?
I love working with the community, helping people who have been victims of emotional abuse and trauma.
What would you say are the biggest challenges facing people in your area?
They are domestic violence and child custody
Have you had a case when you relied on traditional customs?
As a black African woman we cannot run away from traditional customs. We refer clients who want to use customary laws to traditional courts. I feel traditional methods such as compensation are appropriate for minor crimes.
Who is your role model?
My boss Winnie Kubayi. She’s more than an employer – she’s my sister, mother, everything. She supports and respects us.
Are there any laws that would like to see changed?
I would stop the child support grant because children get pregnant in order to get the R250 a month. They abuse the grant by not spending it on the child. Also, when they try to have the baby they sometimes get infected with HIV.
Can you describe one of the most satisfying cases you have dealt with?
There was a dispute between parents because the father was not supporting their child. I called them both in for mediation. At first the man was reluctant. I told them about the Maintenance Act and that both parents have an obligation to support the child, and if only one is working then the burden is on that person. He agreed to pay R1000 a month, and he still pays it today to my office, where the mother collects it.
Have you noticed any changes in attitudes among people in your time at Plessislaer?
Yes, the men have changed their attitudes. They support their wives more. Some of them come and thank me for the work I have done for them explaining the law.
Are there any particular challenges you have in your work?
We need help with transport.
What advice would you give children growing up in Plessislaer?
I would tell them that education is the key to success. Also they should abstain from sex, and if they have sex they should use a condom.
Interview with Khanyi Singh
How long have you worked for CCJ?
What led you to become a community-based paralegal?
It was a love of the community and outreach work, and being a people person.
What are the most common cases that your clients come to you with?
They are legal advice about custody and getting documents for Home Affairs, and social problems such as juvenile delinquency and running away from home.
Is there any law you would like to change?
I would make the old age pension eligibility 70 instead of 62. This is because as soon as men get the pension their behaviour changes: they drink, have love affairs, verbally abuse their wives and only think of themselves.
What role do traditional customs play in your work?
We work with traditional stakeholders, and, if clients choose, we advise them to follow the customs of lobola and paying damages.
Would you say people’s attitudes and behaviour are starting to change?
Yes. Some clients come back after mediation in cases of domestic violence and tell us that there is now peace at home.
Who are your role models?
My role model is Theresa Thusi my colleague. She is very supportive and I have learned a lot from her, and from Zandile Khanyile at New Hanover.
Can you describe a case that you found particularly rewarding or difficult?
I helped a woman get R280, 000 in a divorce, and R30,000 in maintenance from the same husband. Her attorney couldn’t get the money for her, but I managed to.
There was another case where a man raped his wife and she fell pregnant. When the daughter from this marriage was about fourteen he also raped her, his granddaughter. He used to kidnap her and take her to shebeens. The wife came to our office and we issued a protection order and referred her to the police. I contacted a local newspaper ‘Ilanga’ and they published the story, creating some pressure.
The police arrested the man and released him on R900 bail. I was angry. Meanwhile the girl-child, his daughter, became pregnant by another man, and the father assaulted this boyfriend. The wife wouldn’t sign the protection order against the husband, but I worked with the police to get it implemented, and he was arrested again for breaking the order and going into an area he was not allowed in. Finally he was sentenced for 17 years – ten for the rape of the mother, five for incest, and two for assault. I had a trauma. For what he did that is nothing. With parole he could be out in ten to twelve years.
What are the biggest challenges that you face in your work?
We need a bigger budget for travel.