Constitutional Rights: Students against Parliament

Throngs of students protested outside the South African Parliament in Cape Town on a sunny afternoon in February 2011. Wearing green T-shirts and carrying handscrawled signs, they set up an outdoor classroom complete with desks and chairs.

The students, members of Atlantic grantee Equal Education, were protesting against the deplorable conditions of nearly 400 schools in the Eastern Cape constructed from mud and many more that lack running water and toilets. The students demanded government action to ensure every child’s right to education by guaranteeing a safe, clean learning environment.

All of them referred to the Constitution, as rights and democracy are at the core of Atlantic’s health and human rights objectives. The foundation has supported grantees working to uphold the constitution and defend democracy since its work began in the country in the early 1990s.

It exist a lot of cases when grantees working won a suit against the parliament. The most prominent situations is when the South African National Editors Forum and the Right2Know Campaign pressured the government to abandon plans for a Media Appeals Tribunal, which would have compromised the independence of the press.

And, the students’ protest brought results. The Constitutional Court ordered the Eastern Cape government to replace mud schools with proper structures, in response to the Legal Resources Centre’s litigation, with support from Equal Education. The government subsequently made ZAR8.2 billion ($1 billion) available for school improvements. Building on this victory, Equal Education continues to seek to ensure that all South Africans have access to a quality education.

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