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OPERA in South Africa’s classrooms

All too often court victories, however hard fought, do not mark the end of an injustice. And for those whose rights have been violated, rulings handed down by judicial authorities have little meaning if they are not properly implemented on the ground.

Allison Corkery, Director of CESR’s Rights Claiming and Accountability
program, during a field visit to one of the many affected schools

As part of CESR’s work to promote more effective monitoring of strategically important judgments on economic and social rights, Allison Corkery, Director of our Rights Claiming and Accountability Program, took up residence in Grahamstown, South Africa, recently to support the prominent South African human rights organization, Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in its efforts to protect the right to education.

Children all across the Eastern Cape – one of South Africa’s poorest provinces – are being denied their right to education due to a long-standing failure to provide adequate school furniture. Almost four years have passed since the South African High Court made a ruling on the matter, ordering the Ministry of Education to deliver sufficient desks and chairs to all schools in the Eastern Cape. In Madzodzo v Department of Basic Education, the court found that the failure to address this problem was a violation of the country’s constitution. But, as is frequently the case in such situations, the decision has not been properly implemented and those affected continue to be deprived of their rights.

Our partnership with the LRC is the latest deployment of OPERA, CESR’s versatile four-step framework for evaluating compliance with economic and social rights fulfillment. OPERA, which stands for “Outcomes, Policy Efforts, Resources and Assessment”, enables human rights defenders to deliver compelling evidence of non-compliance with economic and social rights standards. The Madzodzo case is the first time it has been used to track progress in implementing a court order. We are exploring its value in building evidence—both for follow-up legal proceedings and to support broader advocacy with the education department.

A major challenge in the Madzodzo case has been the lack of reliable data about what furniture schools actually need for their students, which has hindered the education department’s procurement efforts. OPERA has provided the foundation for creative thinking about data gathering and, together with our allies at the Legal Resources Centre, we are collaborating with schools to co-design a simple, user-friendly audit tool that could be rolled out by the education department. We are also piloting a mobile messaging-based app that would facilitate more regular communication between the LRC and schools.   

The gap between governmental commitments and what is actually delivered on the ground remains one of the most pressing challenges for both the development and human rights sectors. For this reason, CESR is committed to participatory, community-driven monitoring that empowers people to claim their rights with solid, evidence-based advocacy. We will continue to support our partners in confronting human rights violations, especially in cases such as this that may offer important insights into the determinants of effective social accountability.

  • To learn more about our rights monitoring work, see here.