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New courts broaden access to justice

Written by Noluthando Mkhize
For Zandile Mnguni the first two years of motherhood were bliss, with the father of her son taking care of his duties and looking after their bundle of joy.

After the arrival of her second child two years later, things took a turn for the worse for the 28-year-old.

The couple went their separate ways and after a while Mnguni’s former partner stopped providing financial support for the children.

“He stopped paying maintenance and I was not sure what to do or where to go,” she recalled.

Mnguni, from KwaMashu in KwaZulu- Natal, explained that there were times when her children, who are now six and nine, would not go to school because there was no money for transport or food.

“This really broke my heart and I felt so alone,” she said.

Ntuzuma Magistrate's Court

Then one day, as Mnguni was in a taxi to town, she noticed a new building in the area. It was the Ntuzuma Magistrate’s Court, which opened in May last year.

“The next day I made it a point to visit the court. I was hoping to get help with the problems I was having with the father of my children,” said the unemployed Mnguni.

When she arrived at the court staff directed her where she needed to go for assistance.

“I was told to come back with the documents I would need to process my claim, which included my identity document, birth certificates of my children and banking details. I was also given a form that needed to be completed by my bank.”

Mnguni returned to court and later appeared before a magistrate with the father of her children, which is when they discussed how he would pay maintenance. By October, Mnguni was receiving the maintenance money that had been agreed upon.

“I am very happy that government has given mothers this power. It’s very easy to get help from the court. This is something I was not aware of and many people in my community don’t know about it either.”

Growing up, Mnguni remembers the times her mother would go to her father’s workplace to ask for money to raise her.

“Since democracy, I am not subjected to what my mother and grandmother were subjected to. There are laws that protect us as mothers and women,” she noted.

Mnguni said the best thing about visiting the court is that it is close to her home. She has the choice of walking to it or taking a taxi at the cost of R6.

Services

The Ntuzuma Magistrate’s Court forms part of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s plans to provide services to previously under serviced communities.

“Most South Africans were denied access to courts, legal services and advice during apartheid. The legal services and legal aid offered to the majority were inadequate,” notes the Twenty Year Review released by the Presidency.

According to the department, the Ntuzuma Magistrate's Court is the 43rd court to be built since 1994 and is one of the department’s new generation courts, fitted with state-of-the-art technology incorporating electronic communications, networking and data systems.

The equipment includes a digital court system for recording proceedings in active courtrooms and an audio visual remand system, which links to Correctional Services allowing for postponements and other matters via video conference. The regional and high courtrooms are fitted with CCTV equipment, two-way facilities and waiting rooms for sexual offences cases involving minors.

The new court brings justice services to the areas of Inanda, Phoenix, KwaMashu, Ntuzuma and tribal areas known as AmaQadi, Amaphephethe and Amatata.

Previously, the community of Ntuzuma received limited services in a small dilapidated court, which had a school like structure.

Since the 1970s, the Ntuzuma Court was a branch court of the Verulam Magistrate’s Court and only dealt with criminal and family court matters.

This meant that residents of Ntuzuma, KwaMashu and Inanda would travel about 20km to access additional services. The Ntuzuma Court, which was one the many branch courts countrywide, was redesignated as a full services court in October 2011.

The department invested over R200 million in the new facility, constructing a fully-fledged court building which consists of 17 courtrooms including one high court, 45 magistrates and prosecutors' offices, 19 prisoner cells and four prisoner consultation rooms.

Access to justice

According to the department, apart from the 43 new courts built over the past 20 years, 24 branch courts were revamped and elevated to proper full service courts, taking services to rural and previously disadvantaged areas. Nine justice regional offices, each with its own regional head were established from 1997. This has led to easier access and a faster response to provincial and local justice-related issues.