Rights commission starts hunt for talent
SHORTLISTING for South African’s new human rights commissioners begins on Tuesday, and it looks likely that more than the current five people may be chosen to lead the national institution.
The term of Human Rights Commission (HRC) chairman Jody Kollapen and his fellow commissioners concludes at the end of September, leaving the justice portfolio committee with only six weeks to present its list to President Jacob Zuma.
Kollapen, who was selected as chairman in 2002 after heading Lawyers for Human Rights, said this week that he expected the names on the shortlist would be of people who had “a track record”, but who also “understand what independence means”.
DA shadow minister for justice and constitutional development Dene Smuts, who sits on the justice portfolio committee, said it was imperative that “we find people who can take the baton and continue the very fine tradition of the sitting commissioners”.
Although there is no discretion for Zuma, who will be expected to sign on the dotted line once the choice of commissioners has been made by Parliament, there has been debate over the Human Rights Commission Act which determines the scope of the HRC.
The commission – which was inaugurated in October 1995 – derives its powers only from the constitution and the act, although it is can be given additional powers by national legislation.
It must entrench constitutional democracy, address human rights violations and raise awareness of human rights issues. Promulgated as the first law in the first postdemocracy Parliament at the time of the interim constitution, the act provided for a chairman and 10 members, asking only for a minimum of five commissioners.
Smuts, who said the committee discussed the legal position on the number on Thursday, confirmed there was “scope for more people” for the Chapter Nine institution.
“We are likely to end up with six or seven if we can solve the budgetary aspect, and of course any number is better than five. We want to be inclusive and not miss any talent,” she explained.
“We can’t make it too long because we run the risk of being wasteful. It’s taxpayers’ money every time we fly someone in for an interview, so it’s helpful to set a target number.”