Pretoria — Justice Minister Jeff Radebe has applauded civil society groups for their role in improving access to justice but has warned that more hard work lay ahead for such groups.
"Your work has just begun. Development and democracy needs your active and committed involvement. These are mutually interdependent principles that are jointly necessary for the nurturing of our democracy or any democracy for that matter," Radebe told civil society groups on Monday.
The minister was speaking at a meeting to celebrate the signing of the first grant contracts of the Access to Justice and Promotion of Constitutional Rights (AJPCR) Programme that was awarded to various organisations - including those that deal with refugee and human rights issues.
The AJPCR programme - an initiative of Department of Justice and Constitutional Development - is aimed at strengthening civil society. It is implemented by the Foundation for Human Rights and funded by the European Union (EU) through sector budget support.
Radebe said he turned to the Foundation for Human Rights - an organisation established by government - to be the conduit that facilitated his department's support for civil society groups working in the justice and human rights sector.
The AJPCR programme is expected to help strengthen democracy by improving access to justice and promoting constitutional rights, particularly for vulnerable and marginalised groups in townships and rural areas.
"The programme is directly aimed at building civil society's capacity in the areas of access to justice, creating greater awareness of constitutional rights and promoting participatory democracy," Radebe said.
Communities and beneficiaries targeted through the AJPCR programme include:
- women and children
- rural and urban poor communities
- farm workers
- people affected by HIV and Aids
- child headed households
- people affected by violations of human rights
- the aged, prisoners, refugees
- persons with disabilities
- asylum seekers and undocumented migrants
Radebe added that his department's strategy was aimed at building partnerships with civil society in order to ensure that it attained its mandate of ensuring a better life for all.
"The contribution that civil society has made in the attainment of our freedom, and the positive role it continues to play in deepening South Africa's democracy, is the motivating force underpinning my department's policy framework for building partnerships between government and civil society," the minister said.
Organisations, which were awarded the grants, are expected to address challenges such as the prevalence of racism and xenophobia; protecting and promoting rights of the elderly, those with disabilities, the youth, children and women and enhancing access to justice for the poor.
Another issue high on their agenda will be the protection and promotion of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and undocumented migrants.
The minister also thanked the EU for its continued and unwavering support.