Veronica Mente, 34, began her professional career as a bodyguard to the then mayor of Cape Town. Now she is a "barefoot lawyer" in the township of Khyelitsha and assists workers who have had their rights abused in different ways in the work place. The dream is to become their lawyer for real.
"It is my passion to change the conditions for those who were discriminated against during apartheid and who are still disadvantaged today," says Veronica.
Veronica is one of fifteen volunteers who works with the advisory office LAMEC, Labour Community Advice Media and Education Centre, in Khayelitsha. The organisation is a part of World Workers Media Production, who have educated union activists in media production since 1997. Each week, union public programmes are aired by close to 40 local radio stations in South Africa.
LAMEC helps people who have been exploited or who have found themselves in a conflict with their employer or the authorities, but they can also become engaged in other problems. LAMEC cooperates with various trade unions and with other organisations in civil society. South Africa has adequate legislation in place but the workers are often not aware of their rights and many employers, especially private ones, disregard them completely.
"LAMEC functions like a law firm on the side of the workers. Many complaints relate to people not getting paid, agreements regarding work times not being adhered to, or workers being dismissed on unfair or insubstantial grounds," says Veronica.
Many workers are concerned and need to know what rights they have and where they can turn to. LAMEC makes contact with the employers, finds out what has happened and can often solve the problem by providing information on their rights. Sometimes it is just a simple misunderstanding, but other times the issue goes all the way to the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) or the Labour Court.
"We investigate to the extent of our abilities, then we illicit the help of others," explains Veronica. "We have a good collaboration with the Department of Labour. In a way, we relieve them. The workers that come to us can skip the long queues and long waiting times."
Veronica came to Cape Town when she was 22 years old. The family could not afford to let her continue the IT education she had undertaken for a year.
"I thought I had missed the fight against apartheid, that I was too young. But when I came to Cape Town and witnessed the injustices, the inequality and the racism, I felt that there was a lot left to do," says Veronica. My style is the rainbow style, to stand up for people's rights regardless of skin colour.