Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (SERI)
SERI is a section 21 non-profit organisation established in 2010. SERI provides socio-economic rights assistance to individuals, communities and social movements in South Africa.
SERI undertakes a wide range of activities including applied research, advocacy for policy and legal reform, civil society coordination and mobilisation, popular education and training, and public interest litigation. The SERI Law Clinic is registered as a public interest law centre.
SERI outlines the following aims:
- To advance human rights, particularly socio-economic rights in poor communities.
- To assist poor and marginalised groups to realise an adequate standard of living.
- To contribute to public governance through empowering local communities to understand their rights, government processes and to effectively engage in such processes, thereby holding government accountable.
- To ensure pro-poor legal and policy frameworks and to develop socio-economic rights jurisprudence through strategic advocacy and litigation.
- To contribute to the networking and coordination of rights-based civil society initiatives and campaigns in relation to access to housing, water, electricity and sanitation, with a particular focus between 2012 and 2014 on advancing activism around regularising housing and basic services in informal settlements.
SERI’s educational work agenda is usually driven by community organisations and social movements, which submit requests to SERI to undertake workshops on different topics such as housing rights and evictions.
SERI works with social movements and community organisations in struggle, mainly in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, for example Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban.
SERI also works with other local NGOs, such as Planact, Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) and the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), as well as regional and international NGOs.
SERI focuses its educational work on particular issues, including:
- Housing and evictions;
- Access to basic services;
- Protection of political spaces in which communities can peacefully assemble, demonstrate, articulate and campaign for the advancement of their socio-economic rights claims; and
- Local government participation.
SERI’s approach to its educational work focuses on providing knowledge and information that are useful for social movements, communities and civil society organisations, and to engage issues of communities through a rights-based lens, providing practical solutions wherever possible.
SERI develops its workshops to suit the needs of specific organisations or communities. Communities identify their burning issues and SERI grounds its education work in the realities on the ground; combining information dissemination on these issues, discussions regarding immediate problems and strategies to overcome them.
SERI approaches its educational work as a two-way process of exchange in terms of which facilitators learn from the communities and social movements they engage, as well as impart knowledge on legal and social issues. This is evident from the structure of SERI’s training which is largely informed by the issues currently facing communities (which are identified and discussed upfront), but also in the interactive nature of the training itself.
SERI is critically aware of its power relation and sees itself as a resource for communities to draw on according to their needs and demands. SERI’s political approach to method of struggle is to work within the system but critically, thus encouraging communities to know and use the law but also to critique the law where it does not serve their interests and/or the interests of a particularly group of people more broadly.
Tools and processes
SERI uses a number of tools and processes. SERI facilitates workshops, drawing on tools such as outside inputs, group discussion, dialogue, probing, problematising assumptions and statements and narrowing down to the key issues facing a particular community. SERI provides information e.g. what do laws mean, and assists communities/organisations in how to use the information to take effective action.
Workshops are sometimes held to engage a very specific issue (e.g. a piece of proposed legislation or a recent judgment), or are used to assist social movements or communities plan action over the coming months. SERI’s workshops also often entail a degree of follow-up. This may take the form of follow-up workshops or facilitated engagement with stakeholders. In follow-up engagements communities are encourages to reflect upon the proposed action, to determine whether such action was successful or not, unpack the hurdles that may have resulted in unsuccessful action and consider how such action could be improved upon in future engagements. This enables communities and social movements to develop useful, proactive and successful strategies to address current democratic and socio-economic failures.
Over the years SERI has held a series of paralegal training workshops with community leaders from Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban. For each of these workshops, SERI and Abahlali engage beforehand to determine the needs and content, and the workshops themselves are very interactive. Often Abahlali holds its own internal political education workshop after the paralegal workshop, to which SERI is invited in order to learn from the movement.
In the past SERI has undertaken a number of training workshops in partnership with the Local Government Action (LGA) network, a loose affiliation of NGOs which cooperate on local government issues and community participation. In 2013 SERI embarked on a series of two-day workshops with 5 communities in the Mahikeng region, as part of the LGA. The workshops aided communities in developing tailor-made engagement strategies spanning a period of 3 to 6 months to ensure greater local governmental accountability and to deepen democracy and participation at local government level. Follow up workshops were conducted to reflect on the successes and challenges of the proposed actions and strategies developed in the prior workshops.
In terms of educational materials, SERI produces a number of easy-to-use popular resource guides for activists, social movements, communities and other NGOs to draw on. These resource guides are linked to housing, evictions, access to basic services and local government engagement. Some of these guides include:
- A Tenant's Guide to Rental Housing
- Rental Housing in South Africa: Legislation, Regulations and Case Law
- Basic Sanitation in South Africa: A Guide to Legislation, Policy and Practice
- A Resource Guide to Housing in South Africa 1994 - 2010: Legislation, Policy, Programmes and Practice
- Making Local Government Work: An Activist's Guide.
- Evictions and Alternative Accommodation in South Africa: An Analysis of the Jurisprudence and Implications for Local Government
Understanding of popular education
SERI continuously works towards developing its understanding of popular education. Philosophically, SERI draws on the critical legal and socio-economic rights frameworks. Its work is driven by current struggles on the ground and relates to such struggles from a position of respect for what socio-economically marginalised (poor) people are doing and are trying to do. SERI believes that popular education should strengthen such struggles, empower people with tools and information and contribute to the achievement of concrete material and democratic gains.