Section 27 lawyer lauds teamwork

"I'm not a spokesperson for our NGO," Section27 attorney Nikki Stein pointed out in an interview at her office in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. But she nodded in agreement when I said she had emerged as a driving force in publicising the textbooks debacle in Limpopo.

The reason she had been thrust into the media spotlight was because she was one of the attorneys working on litigation against the basic education department, she said. "Unfortunately, we don't have a spokesperson at the NGO, so I've had to handle communication as an attorney working on the case."

But it appears she has carried out this responsibility with aplomb, because she is being quoted in every newspaper and heard in every radio report talking about Limpopo. "Court orders are meaningless unless people know about them," she said.

Her media charm offensive is part of the broad work she has done to ensure textbooks are delivered to schools.

"It's been teamwork," she said, stressing that Section27 lawyers such as Adila Hassim, the head of litigation, attorney S'khumbuzo Maphumulo and researchers Nthabi Pooe and Daygan Eagar were "core members" of the team that had challenged the department.

Soon after the news broke in December that Limpopo children would not have textbooks when schools reopened, Stein and her colleagues set about finding out more about the situation.

It was early in January when I got a call from her inquiring about the progress being made in textbook delivery, but Stein never mentioned plans for a court case. I did not hear from her again until May when Section27's litigation against the basic education department was due to start in the North Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.

Its behind-the-scenes work included visits to many schools in Limpopo, meetings held with department officials and sending no less than three letters of demand to the department.

The 29-year-old Stein filed and signed off the applicants' founding affidavit in the matter. A University  of the Witwatersrand LLB graduate, Stein obtained her LLM from the University of Virginia school of law in the United States in 2009.

"We were working on the case since January, but took it to court only in May. We tried to avoid the courts, but children in Limpopo continue to be prejudiced."

On May 17, Section27 got the court to set a deadline for the basic

education department to deliver textbooks to thousands of pupils in Limpopo.

Section 27 indicated last week it could still go back to court to argue for contempt of court charges against the department. "Our role continues to be to monitor compliance with the court order ," Stein said.

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