Ceres woman standing up for rights of downtrodden

2016-08-09 07:47
Advice office in Ceres (Jenni Evans, News24)

Advice office in Ceres (Jenni Evans, News24)

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Cape Town - A small legal advice centre in Ceres, in the Western Cape, run by a group of dedicated women, is proving to be a beacon of hope to residents living in the fruit belt.

From the time it opens its doors, the waiting room of the Witzenberg Rural Development Centre (WRDC) is full, all the chairs taken by people who have been pushed from pillar to post.

Paralegal co-ordinator at the centre, Naomi Betana, skips her lunch to speak to News24 for a few minutes.


Her desk is covered in paperwork and outside, four emerging farmers are waiting to hear the outcome of calls she has placed to query their dispute over ownership of land they now occupy.

“Oom Koos just wants to farm,” she says, explaining that the men want to know whether they also have to sell their shares of a farm granted in terms of government's land reform programme, after the majority of the shareholders opted out.

Another battle she and the centre’s all-woman team recently fought, was to have a fence built next to a local railway line after the train service was recently restored, to prevent children from playing on the tracks.

She says it is often left to the local women to take up such struggles.

Recently, the municipality tried to introduce water meters, but the centre fought this on the grounds that many residents cannot afford water. With a meter they will not get their free basic allowance.

“That is on hold now,” she says.

Illegal deductions

Betana says the project was not explained properly. A pilot project is under way to see what the approximate consumption will be for a household.

An elderly man and his wife, who had been in the waiting room earlier, were there for help over an unfair dismissal. They slept in their car so that they could be first in line at the WRDC office.

Betana multi-tasks to keep the waiting time down for people in the reception area.

From time to time she pops her head into the room to tell somebody that she has not heard back yet on his query, so he does not waste his time on a long wait. Interns help with the register that is kept at the reception desk, with a note of each person's problem, to help staff juggle the load according to their area of expertise.

Betana focuses on labour issues, evictions, injuries on duty, and housing problems.

One of the centre's biggest bugbears is complaints over illegal deductions from SA Social Security Agency grants. It has worked with the Black Sash to help people understand their rights in terms of grant deductions.

In the small town, every cent counts, and organisations like the WRDC help claw back money that is not supposed to be deducted.

Ceres paralegal Naomi Betana (Jenni Evans, News24)

Affordable childcare

She wishes the government would take back control of the social grants. She says it is presently being managed by a private company.

The centre tries to get support for early childhood development centres, otherwise known as crèches, after finding that parents are not able to work if there is no affordable childcare available.

“How can they develop housing projects without considering early childhood development?” asks the single mother. She darts out early for the school lunch run and is back within half an hour to carry on working.

For her efforts, Betana earns R4 500 a month, and has to make it last.

She has been working at the centre for years, and hopes to go on to get a university degree one day so she can do more for the people. Currently the centre has an arrangement with the Stellenbosch University's law clinic, which provides legal advice every Wednesday.

“I can get people as far as court. But I can't go into court for them,” says Betana.

Read more on:    cape town  |  good news  |  women

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