Making your rights a reality

03 Aug 2022

We understand that what the law says is not everyone’s experience. We look at ways to make your rights feel more real in your daily life.

We are deeply proud of the South African Constitution and everything it has achieved and will continue to achieve as long as we are diligent in protecting our rights. We look at the different ways that every South African can protect themselves and their rights, with the correct guidance and support.

South Africa has one of the most free and fair constitutions in the world. Our constitution is the superior law of the land, which protects every section of our society equally. However, the reality is that many of us do not feel the protection of those rights in our day-to-day lives. This disconnect is the difference between “de jure” which means “according to the law”, and “de facto” which means “according to actual fact”. In short, the law says a lot, but that may not make it your experience.

Our constitutional rights are outlined in the Bill of Rights under Chapter two of the Constitution of South Africa (1996). These rights are protected by our nation’s laws, which are enforced by different branches of our judiciary. Legal issues can be broadly categorised into civil, labour and criminal law.

Most of us know to call the police if our property gets stolen, or if someone enters our homes without permission. But what if it’s something that the police don’t handle? If it’s a civil matter, it can be upsetting when you feel like those who are meant to protect you won’t help. But in a time of need, the police are not the only option to protect your rights.

This may seem complicated, but civil and labour matters have separate commissions and ombuds for disputes and complaints, according to their different industries. In the end, it is possible to ensure that we feel our rights are respected at work, at home and at play. It is about reporting to the right watchdog, with the right legal advice.

At work

South Africa has three main pieces of labour legislation, namely the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, the Labour Relations Act and the Employment Equity Act. Of course, the average South African is not expected to know everything about these acts, that is what lawyers are for. It is these acts that protect our rights in the workplace. If there are problems with your employer or fellow employees that cannot be smoothed over internally, then the best port of call is to approach a legal professional who can assist you with referral and representation at the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). You may also approach a union.

The CCMA is mandated to ensure that fair practices are observed in the workplace, upholding the rights outlined in Section 28 of our Constitution. Unlawful deductions from your wages, unfair dismissals and even harassment and bullying can be resolved through CCMA. If it isn’t the people that are causing you concern, fair practices still include safe working conditions and access to proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) under the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1993 (OHSA).

At home

It can be devastating when you have problems with difficult landlords, poor service delivery or repeated run ins with the municipality. Since these are civil matters, they are handled by the various ombuds within their industries. For instance, a difficult landlord can be reported to the Rental Housing Tribunal and The Office of Human Settlements Ombudsman. Even Eskom can be reported to the National Energy Regulator of South Africa (NERSA) These regulators are industry specific and are therefore in the best position to help you with specific complaints. Reporting to the correct regulator with legal support makes the protections of our constitution much more of a reality.

That legal support is crucial if there are people living in your home who are making you uncomfortable and you are not sure whether it is a criminal or civil case. It can be complicated and there can be a criminal and civil case that run on the same matter. You can even take out a protection order to keep them away from you and your home. Depending on why you need the order, it could be a criminal matter or a civil matter. Your legal counsel will be able to help you through exactly what needs to happen, to ensure that you feel protected.

When it is someone very close to you who is making you feel like you have no rights, like a spouse who’s leaving and trying to take your things, it can be even more painful. What every South African needs to know is that there is never nothing to be done and there is never nowhere to go. If you need a safe place, there are protected places for you to go, for free. Each of us has the right to protect ourselves, and the best protection available to us in this country is the law. You just need someone knows the complexities.

At play

If you have decided to buy something and that product or service is not what was advertised, you are protected under The Consumer Protection Act (CPA). The National Consumer Commission (NCC) is there to protect you from all those dodgy deals that your mother warned you about. The CPA even includes the sale of used vehicles, but again, like with legal issues, it can be complex. If you feel like you have been sold a product that doesn’t work or been promised a service that never came but you still paid for, you can report it to the NCC and even get your money back.

As your companion, we will always recommend using your legal advice benefit to see what you can do, before entering into a dispute. Even if it’s for something that seems inconsequential, like irritating SMSs or spam, there is actually a body that has been set up to protect you, the individual, from unwanted media. The Wireless Application Service Provider’s Association is a self- regulatory body that enforces a strict code of conduct among its members. So, if you receive an SMS in the middle of the night, you can actually report it!

Moving forward

While many of us may feel like David battling Goliath, even David had a secret weapon. Your secret weapon is your lawyer. With many unlawful acts, there is a level of complexity that allows the victim to be misled into believing that nothing criminal has happened. Or worse, is continuing to happen. It will be a lawyer who helps you protect yourself and your family from those who rely on this complexity to lie and cheat.

All these different commissions and tribunals exist because none of them are replaceable or interchangeable. Each body has a highly specialised function because ensuring that the law is upheld fairly is actually highly complex. The professionals who work within them have many years of training to do their jobs. They are here to help us. We need to report to the right people, to make our rights a reality. As your companion, we will be with you every step of the way.

With Legal and Tax, you’re not alone

Article sourced from Legal&Tax.

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(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Vuyokazi Mpela

Vuyokazi Mpela is a Legal Advisor at Legal&Tax. Vuyokazi holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law, from the University of Johannesburg. She is an experienced attorney skilled in the drafting of... Read more about Vuyokazi Mpela


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