The South African Chapter of the International Association of Women Judges (‘SAC-IAWJ’) has since its inception in 2004, spawned no fewer than five student mentorship programmes dispersed amongst its nine (9) provinces. Judging by its trajectory, the organization is well on track to populate the remaining but not so unchartered territories of the country.
Court Tour and Mock Trial for young school children.
By way of background, the SAC-IAWJ student mentorship programmes embrace the objectives of empowerment and its associated ideals. Throughout the various provinces, programmes are generated in unique and diverse ways, based on the blueprint design of the themes set out by the National Executive. At a minimum standard, mentees must observe a period of court-shadowing, and one-on-one interactions with their mentor.
Projects and Programmes: Empowerment and Upliftment
Workshops and webinars revolving around future careers in law, leadership, CV writing, ethical behaviours, mental health, mediation, alternative dispute resolution, gender-based violence and human rights are but a few of the dozens of information-transmission projects that have catapulted the previously unenlightened student into new realms of thinking, and improved decision-making regarding their respective futures.
Educative empowerment projects involving visits to women’s prisons, orphanages, youth hostels and soup-kitchens have been executed with repeated success in varying parts of the country. The success of a ‘Court Tour’ educating primary school children regarding the interplay between the Bill of Rights under the South African Constitution and the mechanisms of a courthouse has had the knock-on effect of curbing unwanted but potentially criminal tendencies in their young minds.
A Literacy Drive employed in one such province was an initiative aimed at empowering awaiting-trial youth who are unable to secure access to schooling for as long as they remained ‘incarcerated’. Through this outreach programme, members of the community were mobilized to collect books which were then handed over to the Head of the centre. Through such an empowerment initiative, a make-shift library was opened in the centre and the books made available to the youth for learning.
Community outreach projects pivoted around specific themes such as the HIV-AIDS Wellness Programme, has served as a vehicle for a multitude of different but equally successful provincial projects. Under this umbrella theme, members designed programmes that would best serve their local community. Thus, the collection of school-shoes for the less-fortunate school child (the ‘School Shoe Drive’), and the comfort bag containing sanitary pads for the girl-child who needn’t miss school because of her period (the ‘Comfort Bag’ Drive) serve as iconic symbols of the collective power of an organization that can and is making a difference.
The highwater mark of mentorship: A poignant memory of a mentor
The following article was penned by the writer and posted on LinkedIn in October 2022, shortly after the commencement of the SAC-IAWJ mentorship programme in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. On this day, two young law students were taken by the writer on an observation tour of courthouses as well as the Advocates’, or Barristers’ Chambers:
Little moments; big giants: The process of mentorship
As a chicken breaks out of its egg, hatching new life onto Earth, SAC-IAWJ’s KZN Mentorship Programme is steadily breaking new ground, conducting court observation tours earlier this week.
Like a single match to the fuse, it took but a few characters of a WhatsApp message to ignite the collective fires of mentors and mentees to coordinate a days’ event under the banner of “Court Observations” in both the Durban and Pietermaritzburg areas respectively.
It is on these “boiler-room” tours that the observations into the real mechanics of the court become abundantly clear to students.
Astonishment is painted on their faces, in their glittering eyes and open mouths as they begin to uncover new insights previously alien or otherwise learnt only in the clinical, sometimes abstract academia of law.
It is here that they discover the existence of an entirely separate Sexual Offences court and make their way to the Intermediary Room, their eyes resting on the dolls inside - acutely aware that they are not there for decoration.
The entire experience, previously supervenient to the sum of their knowledge, magnifies their perception of a specific offence, and brings into sharp focus the pressing weight of the pandemic against Gender Based Violence.
It is here that they learn what a cell register or a charge sheet looks like, and how to read – the often hieroglyphical roll off the noticeboards next to each court. “So many people are represented by legal aid!” they gasp. They make a mental note to google legal aid (again?) and off we go onto the next activity…..
As we make our way through the hallways of the Advocates Chambers, mentees eyes glitter at the sight of its posh interior and plaques which adorn the group entrances. If they are deflated to learn that the obligatory annual term of pupillage is unpaid, except by bursary, their faces do not show it.
They are excited to discover that the puzzle “S.C” written next to some names on the plaques mean “Senior Counsel” and that this means the advocate is an uber advocate, something to strive for in the reach for the upper echelons.
Mentorship is said to achieve amongst other things the establishment of a leadership pipeline. But it also provides deep personal satisfaction for mentors who desire to consciously uplift to their surroundings.
1. ‘International Association of Women Judges’ Mentorship Project Launched at UKZN’ available online at https://ukzn.ac.za/news/international-association-of-women-judges-mentorship-project-launched-at-ukzn/. Accessed 22 July 2023.
2. SAC-IAWJ Annual Report 2021/2022.
3. SAC-IAWJ Annual Report 2022/2023.