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Musina Legal Advice Office

Resource type: Grantee Story

The United Reform Church in Musina, South Africa, has provided a safe haven for refugees coming into the country from Zimbabwe. Most of the women refugees there were either tortured by Zimbabwean security forces or raped while crossing the border, and the church provided them refuge and a ‘safe space.’

The church is one of many local and international organisations that the Musina Legal Advice Office brought together to meet the immediate needs of Zimbabwean refugees, as well as to defend their legal and human rights. These refugees are some of the three million people who have fled to South Africa as a result of economic collapse and human-rights abuses in Zimbabwe.

Atlantic’s grant set a new course of stability for the Legal Advice Office, which is led by Jacob Matakanyane, a lawyer and lifelong resident of Musina whose father once served as the local police chief. Before this grant, the Legal Advice Office was a volunteer operation. Now, it has a staff of 14, working on the refugee situation.

Since 2007, the situation has worsened in South Africa, where violent, even lethal, xenophobic attacks on refugees have taken place. “When we began working to defend refugees, many in the community had negative attitudes toward them,” says Mr. Matakanyane. “But we have changed attitudes. Last year, when there were attacks in other parts of South Africa, we had none in Musina. We treat foreigners like local people.”

“I am quite amazed at how quickly the Legal Advice Office has grown and how much it has accomplished,” says Gerald Kraak, a South African Programme Executive with our Reconciliation & Human Rights Programme. “The Office has been instrumental in educating refugees about their rights, cutting through the bureaucracy and taking on the government when necessary.”