Opening up human rights

In 1996 the late former president Nelson Mandela said: "March 21 is the day on which we remember and sing praises to those who perished in the name of democracy and human dignity. It is also a day on which we reflect and assess the progress we are making in enshrining basic human rights and values.”

On 21 March, it was Human Rights Day. This year, the theme was: “The year of unity, socio-economic renewal and nation-building”. At OpenUp, these are things we strive to empower all those living in South Africa to achieve

Sixty years ago, 69 people gave their lives and a further 180 were wounded, when police fired on a peaceful crowd that had gathered in protest against the Apartheid pass laws. This day, now known as Human Rights Day, commemorates the rising up in unison of ordinary people to proclaim their rights — at a great and tragic cost. With close to three decades of democracy under our belts, there is sadly a significant portion of those living in South Africa whose rights are not realised on a regular basis and in some cases, at all.

This is a big reason why we do the work that we do, here at OpenUp. We empower citizens to improve their lives and communities, and we do this by building tools, opening up data, and by providing training that supports active citizenry, and helps communities and government to work together. We believe that the best way to help someone is to give them the tools, resources and information that they need to make lasting change. It goes with the old saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Much like the men, women, and children who fought tirelessly for their right to freedom of movement (among many other things) on Human Rights, all those decades ago, what people need more than anything is practical assistance. For us, this means information, education, and the tools necessary to change their lives for the better. This helps people to understand what their rights actually are, how they can (legally) go about enforcing those rights and at the end of the day, hold the relevant parts — and people — of government accountable if things do not change.

To illustrate this, here are some of the tools we’ve created to empower people living in South Africa.

I'M ABOUT TO BE EVICTED — HOW CAN I SAVE MYSELF FROM BECOMING HOMELESS?

The Eviction Guide was created to assist with those facing eviction, and consists of a ten chapter-long guide available to print in PDF format.

An increasing number of Cape Town renters are facing eviction. Vulnerable tenants are fighting for the roof over their heads due to exorbitant rent increases, job losses, predatory landlords and as of last week, a nationwide lockdown that means most people won’t be earning enough (or anything at all) to pay their rent. While there are rights in place to protect tenants, many don’t know where to find them or that they even exist at all. Accessing these via the internet isn’t an option for most people in South Africa, and going to a library or to court, where these laws and records are kept, is almost as difficult. We acknowledge that not everyone will be able to easily access evictions.org.za. But, our hope in creating this resource is to compile important information related to your rights as a tenant in one place and to make it easier for community leaders to print out and share this guide with residents.

It contains a series of helpful blog posts about the basics of saving yourself from being evicted, the difference between notices served to tenants facing eviction and what to do in an emergency situation. It even addresses our current situation, which effectively bans landlords evicting anyone due to the lockdown.

The guide itself consists of ten chapters that assist tenants in navigating the system as a whole: the Rental Housing Tribunal, receiving notice to vacate, engaging with your landlord, responding to legal documents, opposing your eviction, finding and instructing a lawyer, accessing emergency housing, finding the right court, what to expect in court and responding to a court-ordered eviction.

Tenants can also seek real-world eviction advice that is applicable to their specific situation and get access to free legal support organisations.

The Eviction Guide is just one of the tools we’ve created to help people understand and have access to a fundamental right.

ARE YOU PAYING YOUR DOMESTIC WORKER ENOUGH?

The Living Wage calculator takes into account how much housing, food, transport and education cost each month, and helps you to determine how much you should be paying your domestic worker in order to cover their monthly living expenses.

In 2016, OpenUp worked with journalists to create a tool that could help employers ensure that they are paying their domestic workers a fair wage. By calculating the monthly financial needs of a domestic worker, you could use the Living Wage calculator to determine how much you should be paying them, in order to cover their living costs. In South Africa, domestic workers make up approximately 7% of the employed population, and many of them earn below minimum wage. Salaries of domestic workers are something that South Africans should know more about and yet, it is a topic met with aversion or discomfort when raised. People often ask their neighbours, relatives or friends how much they are paying, and then use their response as the acceptable norm.

The tool, along with three stories of domestic workers in the Western Cape, were published in News24 and while lots of the comments welcomed such a useful resource, some of them were ignorant, racist and unfair. This further emphasised the importance of this tool and encouraged us to promote it as much as possible.

The calculator takes into account how much transport, schooling, food, healthcare, and housing cost, and makes assumptions based on the salary amount selected — these usually show that the domestic worker earns below minimum wage.

Like the Eviction Guide, this tool takes real-life situations and gives users access to the most basic information about their rights (both employers and employees) when it comes to a fair wage.

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