UKZN Law students have partnered with the Denis Hurley Centre (DHC) – an organisation that supports poor communities in central Durban – in assisting homeless people to get identity documents (IDs) in time for this year’s municipal elections on 27 October.
The DHC has been involved in the campaign for the past three years and their efforts were boosted this year with input from fourth-year Street Law students who have volunteered their time to serve, educate and assist the homeless to get their IDs before election registration on 17-18 July.
Project Manager at the DHC Mr Stuart Talbot said the students were helping homeless folk fill in forms which validate their previously existing ID documents by recalling their ID numbers. The DHC facilitates the payments for the reissues and then offers to keep the documents safe after the homeless have received a notarised copy.
Talbot said those unable to recall their ID numbers were directed to Home Affairs where they were assisted directly in establishing their numbers. ‘This usually leads to a fair amount of dropouts, probably due to the long queues at Home Affairs.
‘A mobile Home Affairs unit was set up during the national lockdown,’ said Talbot, emphasising the importance of the unit in easing the process for the homeless.
Homeless people who have never owned IDs or are unsure of when they were born were directed to social workers for assistance, he added.
The students, who are at the centre twice a week, help with the prescreening process, dish up warm meals, and enlighten the homeless about their rights as human beings.
Ms Phumla Sokhela, a final-year UKZN Law student and first semester Denis Hurley Centre project co-ordinator for Street Law, emphasised the importance of educating the homeless about their rights, especially when faced with police harassment or brutality. Noting how many of the homeless have had their personal possessions confiscated and destroyed without due and fair procedure being followed Sokhela said: ‘These lessons play an important role by giving the homeless a clear picture of what law enforcement officers can and cannot do.’
Sokhela said some of the human rights violations faced by the homeless were in areas such as the right to equality, human dignity, privacy and freedom and security. She called for the abolishment of the stigma attached to homeless people that reduces them to ‘less than human’ and for respect for their rights to live a dignified life.
Sokhela highlighted every person’s right to a name, identity and the vote, as laid out in the South African Constitution.
A UKZN second-year Law student and ID project co-ordinator for Human Rights students, Ms Selisha Govender, reiterated the importance of the role students play in taking statements about unlawful harassment, detention, abduction and assault of the homeless.
Govender suggested how the provision of IDs for the homeless could be resolved going forward, saying ‘we need more mobile Home Affairs ID registration units in areas or places that the homeless can access easily.’
UKZN Law lecturer and convenor for Street Law and Human Rights Ms Janine Hicks pin-pointed the importance of Law students’ applying their theoretical knowledge of the law to practical social justice issues impacting vulnerable communities. ‘Law students not only learn how to leverage the legal system to ensure access to justice and remedies for rights violations, but also develop valuable skills in project coordination, liaising with diverse stakeholders, public speaking and advocacy.’
The current initiative is supported by the Navi Pillay Research Group (NPRG) at the UKZN School of Law, which has raised its concerns at systemic rights violations of homeless people within the eThekwini Municipality and called on the Department of Home Affairs to provide a mobile unit to support the ID application initiative, to enable homeless people to register to vote.
Words: Hlengiwe Khwela