Commission for Rights of Cultural, Religious & Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission) briefing

Arts and Culture

31 August 2010
Chairperson: Mr T Farisani (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Commission for the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities briefed the Committee on its mission, vision and operations, which were aimed at protecting the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities. Referring to its investigative and conflict resolution role, the greatest number of complaints were about religion, followed by culture, and then language. The trend was for religion and culture to be the main issues in rural communities, and language use in education in urban communities. There had been public hearings on male initiation schools in South Africa. Public education and advocacy had dealt with the effect of the Children’s Act on initiation schools and virginity testing, and the role of women in minimising the deaths of initiates. There had been a guidelines report on the ritual of animal slaughter and a research report on the linguistic rights of Basotho speaking communities.

Two major challenges were highlighted. The first was the fact that the Commission reported to the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA), while its field of operations made it more appropriate to report to the Department of Arts and Culture. The second drew attention to the low level of funding received by the Commission, leaving it seriously under-resourced and unable to fulfil its legally mandated obligations. The Commission’s financial situation was described as “dire.” Three legislated mandates had not been funded: the National Consultative Conference (estimated cost R8 million), funding of community councils (R9 million) and the activities of commissioners (R1,7 million). An approach had been made to Treasury to meet these costs.

There was also concern that the Act did not specify the duties of the Commission, and that members of the Commission did not fully understand its own mandate. There also appeared to be areas where its operations overlapped with other agencies.

The Committee suggested the Commission convene a workshop to deepen its understanding of its mandate. The Commission was urged to set targets and time-frames for its activities so that it did not have to wait for approaches to come from the communities. The Commission was urged to align its strategies with the nation-building priorities put forward in the State of the Nation address. The hope was expressed that the Committee would be able to resolve the challenges involved in reporting to CoGTA rather than the DAC.

Meeting report

Commission for Rights of Cultural, Religious & Linguistic Communities (CRL Commission) briefing The Rev Dr Wesley Mabuza, Chairperson of the CRL Commission, said the Commission was founded by Act of Parliament in 2002, and was the least well known. It was tasked with upholding respect for rules, principles, traditions, languages and mores of society, in accordance with the Cultural Charter for Africa.

Describing the Commission’s operations, he said there were four main programmes – research and policy development, community education and advocacy, community engagement and conflict resolution. Its vision was to promote national unity among diverse cultural, religious and linguistic communities, while its mission was to promote and protect the rights of these communities.

The main functions of the Commission were to develop cultural, religious and linguistic equality, recover indigenous knowledge systems, develop an inventory of heritages, enable communities to expand their responsibility and accountability, intensify dialogue among communities, and monitor compliance by the state and civil society with the mandate of the CRL Rights Commission.

Other functions included mediation of inter-community conflict situations and lobbying with government departments and legislative authorities on issues concerning the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities. Dr Mabuza conceded that not much had been done in these areas, but it was the Commission’s intention to interact with government departments on some of the issues which were not yet clear-cut.

Strategic objectives covered the promotion of peace, friendship, humanity, tolerance, mutual respect, the development of diminishing heritages and community councils, while delivery programmes included investigation and complaints resolutions, research and policy development, public education and advocacy, and community engagement.

Referring to investigation and conflict resolution, he said a backlog of 36 cases had now been finalised and 20 new cases were being investigated. A further seven cases remained outstanding owing to resource constraints. The greatest number of complaints were about religion, followed by culture, and then language. The trend was for religion and culture to be the main issues in rural communities, and language use in education in urban communities. Ten mediation cases had been received, but only three had been handled within 90 days, again owing to resource constraints.

Public research reports had been produced on the status of linguistic rights among Basotho speaking communities in Nqutu (KZN), public hearings on male initiation schools in South Africa, and a guidelines report on the ritual of animal slaughter.

The CRL Commission had collaborated with Rhodes University in co-hosting a conference on ethical leadership, aimed at helping students to strengthen ties with their communities. It had also partnered with the SA Older Persons Forum on the role of older persons in discovering their diminished heritage. Dr Mabuza commented that among sexism and racism, one might need to add “ageism”, so that age could be identified as a factor for possible discrimination.

Public education and advocacy had dealt with children’s rights, as opposed to cultural and community rights, the effect of the Children’s Act on initiation schools and virginity testing, and the role of women in minimising the deaths of initiates.

The promotion of community participation through recognised structures, such as community councils, was considered an important aspect of the Commission’s engagement with the public. It was these councils which advised the Commission on the achievement of objectives laid down in the Act. Seminars to launch these councils had so far been held in Gauteng, the Free State and Western Cape.

Dr Mabuza highlighted some of the governance challenges facing the Commission. There were 17 commissioners, of whom two were full-time employees, and the remaining 15 part-time. This upset the budget, and created a great deal of ill-feeling and embarrassment within the Commission, mainly because the part-timers could not be engaged “with dignity.” Furthermore, there was no legislation to indicate what the duties and responsibilities of these commissioners were.

He said reporting mechanisms to the Minister were not in place, and there was some confusion over whether the Commission should be reporting on its financial situation or the performance of its functions. It was not clear where the Commission was placed within the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (CoGTA) – was it with Cooperative Governance or Traditional Affairs? The Commission had been informally advised that it would fall under Traditional Affairs, and the prospect of falling within a department of a Department had implications for the Commission’s independence. At present, there was no model of engagement between the Commission and CoGTA.

Legislative and regulatory limitations included lack of clarity on the roles and responsibilities of part-time commissioners, the authority of the chairperson beyond convening meetings, and the lack of synergy with other sister organisations in the appointment of commissioners.

Dr Mabuza said that until very recently, the Commission could not represent itself at National Treasury. The Department represented the Commission as one of its programmes, with the result that the Treasury did not really know what the Commission was doing, and funding had not been adequate.

He pointed out that from inception, the Commission had had no business plan, and in its place was a “patchwork.” Despite good staff, there was virtually no progress. He said commissioners had expressed the wish to do skills auditing and reconfigure the way the Commission was working, but this would have involved bringing them in for a meeting, and funds were simply not available to cover this cost.

A National Consultative Conference, which was mandatory in terms of the Act, was supposed to have been held, but this would have cost in the region of R8 million, so the Commission had not been able to fulfil its mandate. Some of the programmes had had to be suspended because of budget constraints. Furthermore, the Commission was still waiting for its Medium Term Expenditure Framework allocations from National Treasury.

Mr Risenga Maruma, of the CRL Secretariat, presented a
comparison of budget allocations to the CRL Commission and to “sister organisations”, highlighting funding discrepancies which directly impacted on the performance of the Commission. He pointed out that the organisations in the comparison had similar mandates to the CRL Commission, although they were not as broad. Not only was the 2010-11 budget allocation to the CRL the lowest (R21,4 million) compared to the Human Rights Commission (R73,5 million) and the Gender Equality Commission (R51,9 million), but the projected rate of increase in funding over the next two years was much lower.

He said it was very disappointing that this level of funding did not allow the Commission to cover even basic overhead costs. This meant programmes had had to be suspended to release funds to service these costs. He described the Commission’s financial situation as “dire.” He said three legislated mandates had not been funded. These were for the National Consultative Conference (estimated cost R8 million), funding of community councils (R9 million) and the activities of commissioners (R1,7 million). An approach had been made to Treasury to meet these costs.

The Commission’s budget for the balance of the year was totally used up by salaries, overheads and meetings, leaving no money available for projects. There was also a serious staff complement shortage, with about 70 per cent of posts not filled. The Commission was trying to do much with little, but they were “drowning” because they did not have the money to service even the funded posts.

Commissioners needed to meet four times a year, to approve policies and quarterly expenditures. These meetings cost R500 000 a time, which meant this legally mandated requirement could not be fulfilled.

Ms N Khunou (ANC) said she was grappling to understand what the mandate and exact duties of the Commission were, what the staff complement was, and the role of each employee.

Mr Maruma replied the Act did not spell out the duties of directors, and this caused confusion.

Pressed by the Chairperson to provide the Committee with details of the Commission’s structure, Dr Mabuza said there were difficulties in being aligned with CoGTA, which dealt with concrete issues while the work of the Commission dealt essentially with intangibles. He apologised if the Commission had failed the Committee, but it had not known what questions were going to be asked, and was therefore under-prepared.

Ms Khunou asked how the Commission planned its conferences.

Mr H Maluleka (ANC) also asked why conferences were not organised in such a way that delegates could fly in and out on one day, thus reducing costs.

Dr Mabuza replied that meetings with the commissioners were mandatory, but they drained the Commission’s funds. Three one-day meetings had in fact been held, and costs had been reduced from R500 000 to R200 000.

Ms Khunou referred to problems at initiation schools, citing an instance where 11 boys had had to have legs amputated as a result of exposure to extreme cold in the Free State. There was a time when those who attended the schools returned to their communities as role models, but many now got involved in criminal activity. What was the Commission’s role with regard to these schools?

Dr Mabuza said this was one of many issues of concern to the Commission which could not be properly addressed owing to a shortage of funds.

Ms A Lotriet (DA) said that all of the functions described in the Commission’s presentation fell within the ambit of the Department of Arts and Culture (DAC). If one looked at the mandate, vision and mission, it was evident this particular Commission had the wrong Minister. The problem was that there was an overlap in areas such as linguistic matters, where the Pan South African Language Board, for instance, had basically the same mandate as the Commission, dealing with the same issues, and therefore competing for scarce funds. What was the Commission’s view on having a Minister with CoGTA instead of DAC?

Ms Khunou commented that the question of whether the reporting lines should be to CoGTA or DAC was of greater concern than details regarding the Commission’s structure. There was a need to understand the pressures facing the organisation so that the Committee could provide sound advice on the matter.

Mr Maluleka intervened to suggest that it would be very difficult for the Commission to answer these questions. It was up to the Committee to address the matter, as there was clearly confusion, with traditional leadership seeming to be in the domain of CoGTA, while culture and language was aligned to DAC. It was the Committee’s responsibility to correct the situation. His proposal was supported by the Chairperson and other members of the Committee.

Mr S Ntapane (UDM) asked why there were fluctuations in the monthly payments to commissioners.

Mr Maruma replied that most employees were temporary staff, as the last full-time appointments had been made two to three years ago, and this resulted in monthly payments being an “up and down” situation.

Ms Lotriet asked if the Commission collaborated with other organisations and institutions engaged in similar activities.

Dr Mabuza said that their attempts to collaborate usually involved “bringing our mouths, but not much more,” owing to budget constraints. He agreed there were areas which overlapped, but when there were competing interests, the CRL Commission always ended up as losers.

Ms M Nxumalo (ANC) asked how the Commission engaged with communities.

Dr Mabuza replied that engagement usually resulted from matters being brought to its attention by the community. An example was an organisation’s request for support over the proposed involvement of the Department of Health in initiations, rather than through traditional channels. The Commission also engaged with community councils – voluntary associations which apply to the Department to become councils.

Ms Lotriet asked whether part-time commissioners were paid only for the meetings they attended, or whether they were also paid for other functions and tasks they performed.

Dr Mabuza replied they would be paid for other projects if this were possible, but because of limited funds, this was not possible.

Ms Lotriet said that if the Act did not stipulate the tasks and functions of part-time commissioners, did this preclude the Commission itself from deciding what they should do.

Dr Mabuza replied the Commission was not precluded, and had adopted a “common-sense” approach to the problem. It tried to use its commissioners in as many ways as possible, with particular care being given to ensure they did not feel “insignificant.”

The Chairperson said it would be helpful if the Commission could provide details where it felt the Act might need to be changed. They were in the best position to understand the challenges, such as duplicated mandates, overlapping of functions and problematic reporting lines.

He expressed concern that nowhere in its presentation did the Commission address the priorities raised in the State of the Nation address. It could make a big contribution to nation building and social cohesion if it gave attention to these priorities. Job creation had been referred to, but more needed to be done. In the field of education, it was important to develop programmes covering such areas as initiation.

One of the Commission’s weaknesses related to its own mandate, and he suggested it needed to convene a workshop to deepen its understanding of the mandate. He also urged the Commission to set targets and time-frames for its activities so that it did not have to wait for approaches to come from the community.

The Chairperson took issue over the fact that Commission spent more on salaries than it did on projects, and said projects were essential, even if it meant having to use fewer people.

Dr Mabuza agreed that the Commission should align its agenda with the country’s nation-building agenda, and would take a fresh look at its strategic plan. Time frames would be set, and note had been taken of the need for a deeper understanding of its mandate. He thanked the Committee for stimulating and enriching the Commission.

The Chairperson said he hoped the Committee would be able to solve the problem of to whom the Commission should be reporting. The questions which he and the Committee had put to them were the same questions being asked by their constituents – the “people on the ground”. He expected many more programmes to be presented at the next meeting.

Ms Khunou concluded the meeting with a vote of thanks to the Commission.

The meeting was adjourned.


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