We must protect our Chapter Nines
When I pointed out in 2008 that Judge Nathan Erasmus was being abused by the ANC to wage their political battle against the DA, all hell broke loose.
There was near unanimity from constitutional experts, political analysts and newspaper editors that, by suggesting a judge was being used for political ends, I had committed an atrocity against the judiciary
Nobody considered that what I was saying might be true. Fortunately, the courts eventually did. The Cape High Court found that the Erasmus Commission set up by former Premier Ebrahim Rasool was a political hit squad designed to impugn the DA's reputation in the run up to an election. On that basis, the Court ruled that the Commission was unlawful and unconstitutional.
This was a landmark judgment, not because it vindicated my position, but because it revealed what the ANC's dirty tricks department is willing to do - even if it means subverting the Constitution - to damage the DA.
History is now repeating itself. In fact, the stronger the DA gets, the more desperate the ANC's subversion becomes.
Last week in this newsletter, I said that the Human Rights Commission (HRC) was selectively targeting the DA-run City of Cape Town in the run-up to the local government election. This explained why the HRC had failed to investigate ‘toilets-without-walls' in ANC-run provinces, but had quickly produced a factually inaccurate and illogical report on toilets in Makhaza. The investigation was as expeditious as it was expedient.
It also explains why the HRC is falling over its feet to investigate the removal of illegal, unoccupied shacks in the Hangberg fire-break, but does nothing about ‘forced removals' in ANC municipalities - even where there is clear evidence of real police brutality. On Wednesday, for example, Johannesburg metro police allegedly opened fire on protestors in the Itsutseng informal settlement with live ammunition. One person was killed and at least two others were wounded.
Has the Human Rights Commission made any public pronouncement on this? Not a peep.
Instead, the HRC is busy gathering ‘evidence' for its Hangberg investigation - with a full media contingent in tow to ensure maximum press exposure. Just like the Erasmus Commission, the potential for the HRC investigation to be a poison-dripping tap, over many months, in the run-up to the local election next year is obvious.
I am sure that what I have just said will again incur the wrath of the analysts, experts and editors. In fact, it has already started. This week the Business Day said:
"...to accuse the SAHRC of allowing itself to be turned into the ANC's "political hit squad" is a rash move on Ms. Zille's part, even if the commission is at fault. It is a constitutionally mandated institution. This does not make it immune to abuse for political ends, but it does mean responsible South Africans need to respect its status by showing restraint when disagreeing with it."
Those who say I am in breach of the spirit of the Constitution miss the fundamental point that it is not the institution of the Human Rights Commission that I am taking issue with. We are fully supportive of all the institutions with a constitutional mandate to check and balance power.
What we object to is the politicisation and abuse of these institutions by the ANC through cadre deployment. It is the deployment of ANC cadres to Chapter Nine institutions that breaches the spirit of the Constitution, not our criticism of it. It is precisely because we respect the status of the Human Rights Commission as an independent institution that we protest so loudly.
It is deeply ironic that most analysts and editors are strongly opposed to the ANC's proposal for a media tribunal because they recognise that it will be abused by the majority party to settle political scores with the media and control what it reports on. And yet they don't seem to accept the possibility that Chapter Nine institutions -- whose members are also appointed by Parliament -- could possibly be abused by the ANC for exactly the same ends.
Yesterday, HRC Chairperson Lawrence Mushwana said that my allegations of politicisation had no foundation.
I was interested to learn this week that three of the six Commissioners on the HRC are former ANC MPs, including Mushwana. Even more interesting was that one of the Commissioners, Janet Love, recently resigned from the ANC's National Executive Committee -- the highest decision-making body of the ANC.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe subsequently announced in his report to the ANC National General Council on 20 September that Love (and Bheki Cele) had resigned from the ANC NEC due to their "deployment to strategic state departments and institutions."
There you have it. The ANC itself freely admits that Janet Love's deployment to the HRC was a "strategic" deployment. This should set alarm bells ringing for anybody who treasures the independence of our Chapter Nine institutions.
Worrying too was the appointment of Lindiwe Mokate as a Commissioner, after she had previously resigned in 2005 as CEO of the HRC due to allegations of mismanagement, wasteful expenditure, infighting and intimidation of staff.
It is a great tragedy that a Chapter Nine institution, which should be staffed by people of the highest integrity, can be used by the ANC as a dumping ground for discarded cadres.
The potential for Chapter Nine institutions to be politicised was one of the reasons that Parliament commissioned Kader Asmal to investigate what could be done to safeguard their independence and improve their performance. Asmal's 260-page report released in 2007 recommended a range of measures - including an overhaul of the way in which people are appointed to these bodies - such as:
- Removing the role of Ministers in appointments;
- Removing the President's power to appoint Chairpersons of the Chapter Nine institutions; and
- Increasing public involvement in the appointment process.
All of these measures would go some way to mitigate the potential for Chapter Nine institutions to be politicised. And yet, in the three years since the Asmal report was tabled in Parliament, it is still to be debated. No surprises there.
In the light of recent events, the Democratic Alliance will again push for the Asmal Report to be debated in Parliament. We must ensure that the people nominated to Chapter Nine institutions are there because of their expertise, ability and independence, not because they are ANC cadres. On that score, the worrying story of the ANC's strategic shift in the nominations process for the Human Rights Commission still needs to be told in full. Watch this space.
So, despite what the critics say, we will continue to raise questions around the politicisation of the Human Rights Commission. Not because we wish to denigrate it, but because we want to protect it.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.
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