The decision is part of the organisation’s plans to consolidate its Western Cape provincial services in Cape Town. Those needing free paralegal advice and support will still be able to call the Black Sash National Helpline on 072-66 33 739 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Black Sash Knysna Advice office opened in January 1987 in the foyer of St George’s Hall and was initially run by volunteers. It was kept going through the zeal and commitment of a handful of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay residents, from both the “townships” and from the town, who wanted to do something practical to address the crushing repression of the 1980s. Black Sash National Director Marcella Naidoo says they are grateful to these early pioneers and those who followed, for the contribution they’ve made towards making human rights real for the communities in and around Knysna. “Most of the cases we have dealt with more recently relate to labour issues, private pensions, social assistance and insurance, or consumer issues. Over the past five years, we have offered free advice services to over 60 000 clients nationally. Through this meticulous and time-consuming paralegal work, we have managed to secure more than R65-million in social grants and other financial provisions that were due to them and their dependants,” says Naidoo.
As part of its advice office work, the Black Sash has developed Paralegal Guides, information sheets and training manuals, which resource our training courses and support for paralegals. The Knysna office was particularly involved in the development of a highly regarded debt and credit manual which is used by hundreds of community-based organisations throughout the country and other advice-givers (such as union representatives, priests and social workers) to help those with financial difficulties.
Naidoo says civil society organisations, including the Black Sash, are all feeling the pinch due to the global recession and dwindling international and government funding. “Many incredible social justice and welfare organisations have already been forced to dramatically scale back their important work or close their doors altogether. It is critical that South Africans, both business and individuals, begin to provide greater financial support to the NGOs that form the backbone of our democracy and deliver daily on our collective Constitutional duty to protect and provide for the most vulnerable in our society. We need to be wide-awake to the implications of this sector being forced, through lack of funding, to reduce its work, its presence and its profile,” warns Naidoo.