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Beating the odds

It is fitting that Saint Mathevula joins NACOSA in March, the month when we mark Human Rights Day commemorating Sharpeville, where 69 people were gunned down by police for protesting the Apartheid regime’s inhumane pass laws. Saint is NACOSA’s new Human Rights Programme Paralegal, working to ensure key and vulnerable populations can access their rights.

Saint was born in small village in Limpopo called Mavalani where opportunities were limited, especially for girls. “The village I was born in struggles with getting basic needs such water, electricity, food, shelter, education and primary health care,” explains Saint. “I watched human rights violations first hand. The expectation in my village is that the girl child is to become a teenage mother to prove they are able to have children so that they can attain marriage.” But Saint had other ideas for herself:

“Growing up, I always thought I want to be a contributor to the development of my village, South Africa and the world at large.”


Setting her sights on a career where she could make a difference in people’s lives, Saint studied law and then went to work at the Department of Justice, followed by Legal Aid South Africa and Scorpion Legal Services. She beat the expectations of her village and will soon be admitted as an attorney, making her a fully-fledged legal practitioner.

As the paralegal on the Human Rights Programme, Saint provides legal support services to key and vulnerable populations, as well as training and advice for staff and implementing organisations. This will include reviewing reported human rights violations, communicating with victims, preparing documents for referrals, providing training on human rights law and supporting victims in court preparations.


Saint talks through a practical example: “Let’s say a young pregnant woman living with HIV is attending a health facility but the security guard will not allow her onto the property because he believes young unmarried women living with HIV should not be getting pregnant. This is a violation of her sexual and reproductive health rights and she can report this to the human rights ambassador at the community safe space. My job is to provide guidance and support to the human rights ambassadors and implementing organisations about which cases need to be escalated to external service providers such as SAPS or a legal service provider and which ones can be resolved by the organisations such as referring to the organisation’s counsellor.”

“The law does not provide a black and white approach, there are grey areas and so my job is to interpret law effectively to better serve the key and vulnerable populations we work with,” she explains. “I need to know where to refer matters so forging relationships with key stakeholders such as local and national law clinics, the Human Rights Commission, Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the Public Protector, the Commission for Conciliation Mediation and Arbitration and the Commission for Gender Equality is an important aspect of the work.”


Stigma and discrimination around healthcare services and HIV status are unfortunately still common in South Africa, which creates enormous barriers for vulnerable people trying to access healthcare, which is their constitutional and human right. “You find people going to clinics far away from where they live to avoid the stigma. Or they don’t go to the clinic at all,” she says. For Saint, the greatest tool we have to combat human rights violations is knowledge.

“In my home village, the only careers you know about are teaching or maybe mine work. You don’t have the knowledge to become bigger than that. But knowledge breaks all the grounds – it makes people question, research and go and find out things for themselves.”

“I am passionate about changing young people’s perspective to beat the odds and go beyond their community’s expectation,” says Saint with a smile.

“Joining NACOSA has given me the opportunity to fulfil my dream to make the lives of the citizens of South Africa better.”