/ 27 September 2010

‘Community service would help graduates’

A seminar of students over the weekend showed massive support for proposals calling for graduates to perform community service after completing their studies.

The Students for Law and Social Justice (SLSJ) held its third regional conference in Anerly, KwaZulu-Natal, this weekend, where delegates endorsed last week’s call from Higher Education and Training Minister Blade Nzimande for graduates to do some form of community service after their studies.

Nzimande told the ANC’s National General Council (NGC) in Durban last week that a resolution was passed during the NGC’s education commission that his department explore the possibility of introducing compulsory community service for university graduates.

SLSJ national seminar coordinator Michael Mbikiwa told the Mail & Guardian there was enormous support for the proposal from the delegates at the seminar.

“There was an overwhelming response by delegates for some sort of community service programme,” he said. “There were broader issues discussed but the seminar was dominated by discussions on how we could establish a programme for law students in particular.”

Mbikiwa said it was “encouraging” that there now seems to be some political will for community service programmes for graduates.

“This is by no means a new idea, but it is heartening to see that government is in agreement that there is a need for this kind of programme,” he said.

“We’ve also engaged with Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel and he seemed receptive to the idea of some sort of community service and he also seemed receptive to the idea. But there are some other practical issues to be discussed.”

SLSJ is represented at universities in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Eastern Cape and the North West and is seeing growth at universities in Gauteng as well. It does nt have formal membership but its last three seminars each drew about 600 delegates, Mbikiwa said.

Community service would benefit both those getting help and the provider, in this case law students, he told the M&G.

SLSJ has already established legal advice clinics in impoverished areas in the Western Cape, where law students can volunteer their services and act as paralegals providing legal advice to those in need.

“We’ve been running these clinics for about a year now and the benefits have been immense for all involved. People have access to free law advice and assistance and at the same time it helps the volunteers become better lawyers as it gives them an understanding of how the law works,” said Mbikiwa.