COMMUNITY ADVICE OFFICES IN BRIEF
The South African Government has pledged to create a development-orientated public service by 2014. But the battle for basic living conditions such as housing, electricity and clean water continues for most South Africans, amid increased inequality. Social Cohesion and Social Justice in South Africa, a report released by the Department of Arts and Culture in 2012, defines social justice as "the extension of principles, enshrined in our Constitution, of human dignity, equity, and freedom to participate in all of the political, socio-economic and cultural spheres of society". The report argues that "the success of the transition, and the transformation of our society, will obviously be measured in terms of the degree of achievement of social justice" but concludes that "social justice remains a challenge and the issue of development and underdevelopment constitute the biggest threat to social cohesion and social capital".
Community Advice Offices (CAO) served as centres for resistance in communities during Apartheid. Advice offices have now become centres of democracy and assist people in accessing their rights. As community-based institutions through which paralegal services are rendered to the public free of charge, they assist directly in facilitating access to justice. Their services include legal advice on issues of unfair dismissals, sub-standard service by service providers, consumer protection, interpretation of legislation and government policy, helping with accessing State services such as Birth Certificates, ID applications and Social Grants. They are also able to escalate matters when necessary by referring cases to Legal Aid South Africa, university legal clinics or public interest lawyers. Most Advice Offices address specific socio-economic problems affecting the community and are usually staffed by people from within the community.