Human rights commissioners told to stick to working conditions
Barely two months in office, the newly appointed human rights commissioners are already at odds with Parliament over a proposal that full-time commissioners be based in their provinces, as opposed to the headquarters in Johannesburg.
The commission argues that this is to “increase efficiency and visibility”.
The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) appeared before Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and constitutional development this week to account for its role in the deaths of psychiatric patients in Gauteng last year. It apologised for not doing enough to intervene after a complaint was laid with the commission in March 2016.
The new commissioners were appointed in December and assumed office on January 3.
SAHRC chair Bongani Majola told MPs that they had observed that the commission was not visible and many people said they hardly hear about it.
“In discussing how to deal with this, we thought that perhaps we should make commissioners visible in provinces so that each province would have somebody responsible for that province, and deal with issues related to that province.
“We also came to the conclusion that perhaps we do not have to locate all the full-time commissioners in Johannesburg. As a result, we think that because part-time commissioners are part time, one possibility is that we might leave them in the province they come from so they can spend hours there,” he said.
Majola proposed that full-time commissioners who are based, for example, in the Western Cape, would be allowed to remain in the Western Cape and service adjacent provinces, working together with the commissioners who are based in Johannesburg.
Another commissioner, Andre Gaum, added that they want to be more involved and not have “an ivory tower kind of approach”. But MPs basically told them to take a hike. “This reminds me … of hiring someone who, during the job interview says they are available to work at all hours, but after getting the job, they start telling you that they only stick to working hours,” said ANC MP Bongani Bongo.
“At face value, if you are full time it means you must be full time at the office attending to day-today issues. If you are part time, you are going to stay in the Western Cape and you will be called in as and when there are committees in Johannesburg,” said Bongo.
Committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga warned: “We have said we don’t want commissioners who act in silos. We have seen the problem of acting in silos. It has created the [Life Esidimeni] disaster the nation is mourning.”
Motshekga said the law states that the seat of the commission is in Johannesburg and commissioners should be based in Johannesburg.
“I am not convinced that we need provincebased commissioners and part-time commissioners who are solely attached to their provinces,” Motshekga said, adding that the effectiveness of the organisation depends on a strong centre.
Motshekga later told City Press that he thought the proposal was about “convenience”.
“If I have my family in the Northern Cape, I would prefer to be there. People do not want to move and they will give you all sorts of reasons.”