SECTION27 voices concern about political parties’ use of families’ stories without their consent
Johannesburg, 17 January 2019 – We wish to express our deep concern and unease about a campaign launched by the Democractic Alliance (DA) this week and more specifically about a billboard which, among others refers to the Life Esidimeni and Michael Komape tragedies. On 16 January 2019, Mmusi Maimane launched the DA’s electoral campaign titled #TheANCIsKillingUs in the Johannesburg central business district.
He unveiled a billboard which highlighted the tragic and wanton deaths linked to Marikana, Life Esidimeni and school pit latrines. This campaign has polarized South African discourse. Some have argued that the use of facts in the public domain is necessary to highlight corruption and mismanagement among public officials. For them they are a necessary reminder for voters when applying their minds about which political party to place their trust in.
There has also been outrage that the DA is exploiting the suffering and grief of poor families and the dead for political capital.
As a non-partisan, rights-based organisation, SECTION27 is wary about commenting on party political issues in public. We prefer to focus our energy on the achievement of substantive equality through the use of the law, advocacy and research. However, it would be remiss not to add our voice to this important discourse, as we did when we spoke out among others about the multiple corruption allegations under former President Jacob Zuma’s administration and the mismanagement under former MEC for Health in the Free State, Benny Malakoane.
As legal representatives to both the Komape family (whose son Michael died in a Limpopo school pit toilet) and many of the Life Esidimeni families who have now been placed at the centre of the DA’s campaign, we know that our clients have now or in the past objected to the gratuitous exploitation of their suffering for political leverage, and without their consent.
Christine Nxumalo, whose sister tragically lost her life as a result of the marathon project and who is a prominent member of the Life Esidimeni Family Committee addressed Mmusi Maimane directly via Facebook, writing:
“How insensitive can you get? This is the 2nd time you do this. You claim to care and you bow your head in silence for those who died, but in actual fact you are using the names of deceased in vain. If you cared you would have contacted the families, but you didn't because you don't give a damn. And it is also crystal clear that you do not have a shred of decency because yet again you didn't bother or didn't think to call the families of the deceased before embarking on your high moral campaign...why? Because you know you are using their pain, as a political scoring point. You have no [retracted] right to use the deceased names and you have no right to go around putting up plaques with names of our deceased loved ones. And you have no right to use our tragedies as political scoring points.”
Nxumalo has in the past highlighted the DA’s role in the unveiling of a plaque in remembrance of the 144 deceased mental health care patients on Human Rights day last year without notifying or consulting family members.
Michael Komape and the right to basic education and sanitation
We understand that the Komape family were not aware that Michael’s name was on the DA billboard until we told them. It is not the first time the DA has used Michael’s name in a campaign without their consent.
Party members were heavily criticised during the Limpopo State of the Province Address on 24 February 2017, when they carried placards with the words “Justice for Michael Komape” without consulting the Komape family. In a letter to the party in March 2017, on the family’s instructions, we wrote to the DA, expressing the family’s distress that the party did not seek permission to use Michael’s name in any campaign. The family further said that no concern has been shown by the DA towards them in the then three years since Michael’s death.
The DA responded at the time through Karla van Rensburg, a research and communication officer, on behalf of the Limpopo provincial leader Jacques Smalle, claiming that:
* they “broke the story two days after the incident to the SABC at the home of Michael's parents when we were there to pay our respect to his family”;
* “laid criminal charges with [the] SAPS against the department”;
* “laid charges with the HRC on this matter and other schools with poor/no ablution facilities”; that
* “the pressure [they] put on the department was fundamental in their decision to put up porty (sic) toilets at Michael's school until new facilities were built” and that they
* “did member statements and even called for a snap debate in the Limpopo legislature on sanitation and abution (sic) facilities at school”
While we agree that it is necessary to expose corruption, lack of political accountability and lack of delivery of services, all political parties should ensure that such exposure is not achieved by exploiting the pain and trauma such as that of the families, victims, survivors and others without their informed consent. Indeed, the DA’s Jack Bloom’s questions in parliament brought many details of the Life Esidimeni disaster to light and that should be applauded.
Previous Section27 letter to the DA on that party’s use of Michael Komape’s name, 17 March 2017
Mr M Maimane
Federal leader: Democratic Alliance Parliament
Ms L Watson
79 Hans van Rensburg
17 March 2017,
Dear Mr Maimane and Ms Watson
The DA’s use of Michael Komape’s name
1. On Saturday 25 February we received a telephone call from our client, Mr James Komape, the father of the late Michael Komape. Mr Komape expressed his and his family’s distress at the use of his son’s name by the Democratic Alliance during a protest at the Limpopo State of the Province Address on 24 February 2017.
2. Mr Komape noted particularly a DA member directly in front of the legislature displaying a large placard around his neck with the words “Justice for Michael Komape”, and we understand that more members of the DA and DA supporters were carrying similar placards in the public gallery.
3. As you know, Mr and Mrs Komape lost their son Michael in unspeakably traumatic circumstances in January 2014. Since then, the family has been subjected to retraumatisation each time they are exposed to images or references to him where they do not expect it.
4. While this cannot be altogether avoided, it is amplified when his name is used by politicians in very public campaigns. The family considers it to be particularly disrespectful given that no concern has been shown by the DA towards the Komape family in the three years since Michael’s death, and no permission was sought by the DA to use their son’s name and death in their campaign.
5. Mr Komape has therefore requested that we, as his family’s attorneys, write to you to request, first, an apology from the DA to the Komape family; and second, that any further use of Michael Komape’s name is not permitted unless preceded by discussions with the family through us as the family’s legal representatives.
Statement issued by Ngqabutho Nceku Mpofu, Section27, 18 January 2019