Parliament fire: Investigators must investigate - Brett Herron

GOOD SG says politicians should allow expert police and fire investigators to do their work




Instead of concocting conspiracy theories and political narratives to explain the fiery destruction of South Africa’s parliament, publicity-seeking politicians would serve the people better if they shut up for a moment and allowed expert police and fire investigators to do their work.

While much has been made of the arrest of a man at the scene of the crime – with all kinds of motives ascribed to his activities – we don’t know for certain what he was doing there. We don’t know whether the fire was deliberately set. If it was, we don’t know the motive, we don’t know who was behind it, we don’t know how it was possible to achieve, and we don’t know if it could have been prevented.

South Africa needs this information in order to make real sense of the tragedy, hold perpetrators, if any, accountable, and tighten systems in order to mitigate the potential for a recurrence.

Accountability is key. Perpetrators of crime, including criminal negligence, are neither held accountable by political pronouncements from on high nor yapping from the opposition benches. For accountability we rely on the criminal justice system.

This is a lesson we were re-taught last year in the wake of the so-called insurrection following the imprisonment of former President Jacob Zuma. Six months ago, in the immediate aftermath of the orgy of violence, destruction and theft, it was mildly reassuring to be told that 12 ring-leaders had been identified. But if ringleaders were actually identified, we have yet to see them in court.

There is something practical politicians ought to do without further delay… Nearly three years ago, in March 2019, members of parliament approved the Critical Infrastructure Protection Bill. The President assented to the legislation later that year – but the Act has never been implemented. It was proclaimed with an implementation date to be determined.

The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act, when promulgated, will replace the outdated apartheid-era National Key Points Act, with an Act balancing the need to protect key infrastructure from security threats with a need for greater accountability and transparency.

The Act will create a Critical Infrastructure Council to advise the Minister of Police on identifying and declaring “critical” infrastructure, as well as on security risks and appropriate security measures. 

It will require the Minister to report to Parliament on critical infrastructure twice a year. This creates regular opportunities for legislators to hold the Critical Infrastructure Council, Minister and National Police Commissioner accountable for consistent and appropriate security checks on buildings like the houses of parliament.

Those members who now complain that they don’t have information about safety and security measures don’t appear to grasp that they approved a law intending to provide them six-monthly reports. They should be asking questions about when this legislation will be implemented. 

In the meantime the secretive old National Key Points Act of 1980 still applies.

Statement issued by Brett Herron, GOOD: Secretary-General, 9 January 2022