Interviews of candidates for vacancy at South African Human Rights Commission

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Justice and Correctional Services

04 September 2013
Chairperson: Mr JB Sibanyoni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee met to conduct interviews for a vacancy at the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC).   

The following six candidates were interviewed:

Adv M Ameermia
Ms NP Thejane
Adv J Relefatane
Dr W Gumede
Prof V Jaichand
Adv N Khutsoane

Meeting report

Candidates were asked the following questions:

Adv M Ameermia
● You had been nominated by a High Court Judge (Mohamed) in Gauteng; had you ever appear before that Judge?
● In your view, was there anything that might prejudice your appointment to the Human Rights Commission (HRC), and would you like to disclose that information?
● In the event you were successful, how soon could you be able to commence?
● What was the present situation regarding your wife and son, and would that impact on your performance if you were to be appointed?
● Were you impacted in anyway by being placed under administration by the decision of the National Government to place the provincial government of Limpopo under administration? Could also elucidate on the kind of impact and challenges that decision had?
● Could you speak to your political involvement and political activities given that you stood for the ANC in 1995? Do you hold political office bearing right now?
● Why would you regard as an achievement, the exclusion of School Governing Bodies (SGBs) from appointing school principals?
● The candidate was asked how, given his experience, he hoped to bring value to the HRC, but also which areas of the Commission’s mandate would he make an impact on?
● The candidate was asked if he was not among the officials who, reportedly, resisted intervention into the investigation of the provincial government in Limpopo?
● Although his CV indicated experience in dealing with people from various political formulations; being a card carrying member of the ANC, how did he manage to balance the interests of the ANC and other civil society organisations and communities which might have contending interests? The job being interviewed for required that he serve people of the country regardless of political affiliations.
● The candidate was asked to clarify the relationship with two of his referees – Advocates Jody Kollapen and Ismail Vadi? In addition, why had he worked in Limpopo all his life despite it being a challenged province in terms of governance?
● Clarity was sought on whether the candidate believed that School Governing Bodies (SGBs) in schools should have a right to appoint teachers? Would such a decision – to allow parents to appoint teachers – not lead to continued discrimination, where white parents would give preference to white teachers or vice versa?
● The candidate was asked if he was still involved in authoring books?

Refer to audio for responses

Ms NP Thejane
● In what capacity had she been participating in the HRC as reflected in her CV?
● The candidate was asked if she was currently employed?
● Was there anything that could prejudice her appointment to the HRC. If so, she was asked to disclose this.
● The candidate was asked to clarify and elaborate on the charges she currently faced at the Post Office (her place of work).
● The Post Office was in crisis and the candidate seemed to be involved; how did she think that would impact on her appointment to the HRC, given that she was key in leading evidence of any pending investigations? One would expect that she would be keen to see the matter finalised before she moved to another institution.
● Clarity was sought on whether the charges purely concerned disciplinary matters or whether there was criminality to them?
● How would the investigations against the Post Office executives impact on the candidate’s time if she was appointed to the Commission?
● The candidate was asked if she was affiliated to any political party?
● What steps was she taking to seek redress regarding the pending disciplinary process, as justice delayed was justice denied?
● The candidate was asked if she was not robbing the country of rare skills, by seeking to leave her area of expertise (forensic investigation) given the proportions of corruption in the country.

● The candidate was asked what the Committee would do in an eventuality that she was found guilty – if the temporarily withdrawn disciplinary proceedings were reinstated? The Committee did not have any guarantee of her innocence and based on the information it could not formulate an objective view as it was only her side of the story.
● The candidate was asked if in her previous work that involved investigating racism in schools, had she ever come across a situation where “reverse racism” or “anti-white” sentiments were claimed? How did she deal with that situation?
● Based on the claim she made about bringing culture in line with the constitution, the feeling had been that westernised South Africans attached as liberalised interpretation to the Constitution such that it contradicted indigenous cultures that the Constitution recognised as much. What was her view, and if that could be contextualised regarding issues such as virginity testing and slaughtering animals that were still being practised in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN).
● The vacancy was full time; how soon would she be available and what would become of the current investigations your office was undertaking?

Refer to audio for responses

Adv J Relefatane
● The candidate was asked to tell the Committee about herself and to highlight any achievements as well?
● The candidate was asked what her current employment status was?
● In the event she was recommended as a Commissioner, was there anything that could prejudice her appointment and did she want to disclose anything?
● How soon would you round off your current engagements, and be available to the HRC?
● What in your view would you bring to the HRC if you were appointed?
● Other than street law projects, what other experience have you got regarding human rights issues?
● Have you familiarised yourself with the work the HRC was doing at Lindela Repatriation Centre. If so, what ideas would you suggest to the HRC about doing that kind of work?
● The candidate was asked about the Sherryl Thompson Associates contract?
● What was her perception about SA’s track record on human rights and why?
● The candidate was asked if she did not think land restitution was more urgent and important than overseeing human rights in general. This was a matter of life and death; would her well-roundedness not be better used in the area of land reforms?
● The candidate was asked if she was affiliated to the Lawyers for Human Rights as her CV had indicated she was a member of the Black Lawyers Association (BLA). Did she not think that lawyers were backward thinking when it came to the Constitutional requirement of establishing a non-racial society? Why, as lawyers, were they unable to formulate one body, or why BLA and Lawyers for Human Rights could not be merged?
● Lawyers were expected to perform without fear or favours, if they were divided how would you achieve that objective?
● The candidate was asked if she was not making enough money out of serving the number of boards she sat on?
● Did she want to specialise in any specific area in her professional life? What field would that be?
● If she specialised in labour law and had a contract in land restitution, why did she think joining the HRC would serve the country better?

Refer to audio for responses

Dr W Gumede
● The candidate was asked to highlight whatever he thought the Committee should bear in mind in considering his application?
● The vacancy required a full-time person, would he be available to take up that position and when would he be able to start.

● Was there anything that would prejudice his appointment to the HRC?
● The HRC was given a Constitutional task to keep an eye on the role of socio economic rights and each year the HRC asked departments to submit reports on how they dealt with socio economic matters. The HRC had, since Adv Kollapen’s tenure, tried to hold departments to account but they failed to avail information. The Commission was currently looking at issues such as the sanitation and housing; what would he bring to that kind of task given his history in the area of socio-economic rights?
● The candidate was asked to give the Committee an idea of his basic education, tertiary institutions he attended; and where his Doctorate degree was achieved? Clarity was also sought on his background in finance and banking, but also his involvement with the Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI).
● If he were to choose one thing to focus on, as he appeared to be active in many areas – internationalist, development specialist, media, banking and labour - what would that be?
● HisCV did not reflect any kind of experience as a children rights activist; would he say he had adequate knowledge of that field?
● How would enforcing socio-economic rights be possible given that these were things that could be achieved progressively?

● Clarity was sought on a statement that there were no institutions to enforce socio-economic rights.
● What was his view about the media that was continually accused of behaving like an opposition to government? How correct or factual was that sentiment?
● The candidate was asked if he ever got to play golf, since he was a caddy, and what his handicap was?
● The Constitution required South Africans to work towards creating a non-racial society. He had made comments about making the Sowetan a pro-black newspaper. Had the time not come to have institutions that represented SA people; and not sections of the population?
● Would he have applied to any other Chapter 9 institutions had there be a vacancy?

Refer to audio for responses

Prof V Jaichand
● Was there anything that he would like to declare that might prejudice his appointment to the HRC?
● The candidate was asked to give the Committee a sense of the human rights law work that he had done or was currently doing.

● Had he been able to look at the kind of work the HRC conducted with regards to refugees; and would he share his ideas on that?
● Did he not think that he was over-qualified and that his contribution would be missed at at academic institutions, where it was required?
● Did he not think that his vision and objectivity would be absorbed by Government bureaucracy?
● Did he not think that this work required a younger person who could go out and hear community complaints?
● The candidate was asked what he would change concerning human rights protection in the country if appointed and what value would you be bringing to the HRC?
● How did he see the country dealing with the challenges of socio-economic rights relating to service delivery issues, given the constraints that were there in government?
● Would he be able that you could do both jobs, as a full time Commissioner and as a Head of the Law School at Wits?
● What was his opinion about the role of civil society today? Prior to 1994, civil society struggled to have human rights; had there been a shift in the particular work they were doing?
● Nation building was crucial to how South Africans conducted their business. What was his opinion on how the work of human rights ought to be carried out, especially that there were too many challenges?
● Donor funding had dried out because the country was free now; would it be appropriate for government to start funding or incentivising civil society for its efforts in trying to enforce human rights?

Refer to audio for responses

Adv N Khutsoane
● The candidate was asked if she was currently employed?
● If she were appointed was there anything that would constitute as conflict of interest.

● The HRC was a Chapter 9 institution and there were various others; why would you prefer the HRC above any other Chapter 9 institutions?
● Many people in the country did not see the Commission for Gender Equality (CGE) to be efficient; did she think the HRC would be better suited in carrying out the functions of the CGE?
● Do she think she would be more effective at the HRC?
● What was her view on the fact that the HRC required someone with in-depth knowledge of women’s rights, as this was human rights too?
● Given her experience in women’s rights issues, how would she integrate that experience to the mandate of the HRC?

Refer to audio for responses

Closing remarks
It was agreed that the Committee would reconvene the following week to choose the candidate.

The meeting was adjourned.

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