The Committee met to be briefed on the 2015/16 annual report of the Commission for the promotion and protection of the rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities (CRL Rights Commission).
The Commission said it had maintained its status of receiving an unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor General (AG). No matters of emphasis were reported for the second year. All programmes of the Commission had attained their set targets in the year under review. Since the third Commission was appointed in March 2014, the environment in which the Commission operates had changed. Services, as well as the public profile of the Commission, had been elevated. The 2015/16 impact analysis revealed that during this period, it received about 2 422 mentions in broadcast, print, online and social media, and this had a yearly cumulative figure of 1.37 readers, listeners and viewers, or an average of 114 million a month.
The number of community cases it handled annually had increased from 31 to 211 in the space of two years. However, funding shortages were hindering its progress in providing a service to the community.
In discussion, the Commission was asked in the light of the issues it dealt with, whether it had forged relationships with other departments. After hearing that the Commission was susceptible to threats when it became involved in religious disputes, Members supported its call for increased security and protection. There was agreement that the Department of Basic Education should be approached to introduce life orientation for learners at a younger age, so that they could develop a balanced view on religious and cultural matters sooner. Other issues dealt with included burial rights, minor concerns over irregular expenditure, and legislation related to the religious sector.
Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Rights Commission(CRLRC): Annual report
Ms Thoko Mkwanazi, Chairperson: CRL Rights Commission, told the Committee the Commission had maintained its status of receiving an unqualified audit opinion from the Auditor General (AG). No matters of emphasis were reported for the second year. All programmes of the Commission had attained their set targets in the year under review.
Since the third Commission was appointed in March 2014, the environment in which the Commission operates had changed. Services, as well as the public profile of the Commission, were elevated. The 2015/16 impact analysis revealed that during this period, it received about 2 422 mentions in broadcast, print, online and social media, and this had a yearly cumulative figure of 1.37 readers, listeners and viewers, or an average of 114 million a month.
In 2013/2014, the Commission had received 31 community cases. In 2014/2015, after the appointment of new commissioners, 75 cases had been received. In 2015/2016, it received 211 cases. In the first quarter of this financial year, 62 community cases had already been received, dealing for example with the Shembe church control issue, deaths at initiation schools, Ukuhlolwa virginity testing, etc. This projected to 248 cases for the year.
Of the 211 cases received in 2015/16, 106 cases had been finalised and closed. 66 of the closed cases concerned cultural rights, 32 concerned religious rights, and eight concerned linguistic rights. 105 cases were pending recommendations on policy and regulations.
The Commission had had to facilitate resolution of friction between and within cultural, religious and linguistic communities. Eight conflict resolutions were conducted, including the Roodepoort community’s involvement in the primary school saga, Khutsong gangsterism, and the unrest in Ficksburg, with the purpose of capacitating communities on alternative means of resolving conflict. A target of four cultural dialogues had been achieved. Themes covered included “the role of youth in preserving culture and heritage.” Four religious dialogues were set and four were achieved. Themes included “the role of women in religion.” Four targeted language dialogues were achieved, with themes that included “the inequality of language: challenges of indigenous languages in professional sector and business.” Of the 12 cultural, religious and linguistic rights campaigns planned, only one was not achieved.
On programmes and projects from August 2015 until the present, the Commission had embarked on the “Commercialization of religion and abuse of people’s belief systems” project. The report had been finalised, and the Commission had written to the Speaker’s office, requesting a joint sitting for the tabling of the report. Another research report produced in the year under review was about the re-use of graves. The launch of the “People living with Albinism” campaign had taken place.
Ms Mkwanazi said that in driving operational excellence, management had focused more on internal processes, as some of the findings in the past had identified challenges with internal controls. Due to the work of the CRLRC, and threats received in the year under review, it had managed to install biometrics systems and sought security services.
In terms of expenditure trends, the Commission had limited retained earnings available to maintain the delivery of its mandate. It exercises prudence in the use of its financial resources, as demonstrated by its efforts to remain within the budget allocation, not withstanding pressure in respect of the implementation of its strategic plan. The CRLRC strictly follows the guidelines from National Treasury in respect of cost containment measures. The savings generated from vacancies is not sustainable, and the Commission will need to fill unavoidable vacancies during the medium term. The baseline allocation is insufficient to support the current performance of the Commission.
Irregular expenditure of R43 000 had been reported, where the Commission had failed to source three written quotations. The expenditure had been in respect of procuring toner for photocopiers urgently. Wasteful expenditure of R51 000 had been reported in respect of the intention of management to revalue assets. The decision to revalue assets had been reconsidered on the basis that it would incur recurring costs which could be avoided if the useful lives of assets were adjusted appropriately.
In conclusion, Ms Mkwanazi said that although under severe financial constraints, the Commission was doing all it could to give service to communities, in line with its mandate.
Mr E Mthethwa (ANC) asked in terms of the budget whether the Commission had identified some of the issues it was dealing with and linked them with the Department, because its job also cut across a number of departments. It should forge relationships with some of the departments to ensure that other areas of investigation went forward, and it must be seen that the Commission was supporting them. Also, when it came to an issue that was in COGTA’s programme, the Department should fund, it rather than the CRLRC.
The Commission really needed the security it had referred to, and was addressing the issue to the right platform, because when it interfered with people who forced communities to eat snakes, grass and so on, they would be in danger, since these people were making money out of those communities. If the Commission tells them they must stop, they are cutting their source of income. Therefore, the Committee supported the Commission, and the relevant security cluster had to listen to its call, and the matter should be taken to the highest office if needs be. For example, Thuli Madonsela, as public protector, had 30 bodyguards and therefore the Commission should be treated the same way.
Ms N Mthembu (ANC) appreciated the commission for achieving a lot in a limited budget because the work it is doing is very import in making people to understand their rights in terms of culture, religion and so on.
Ms Mthembu said that the legislation the Commission was proposing should be supported, as they needed to regulate the religious activities of eating grass and snakes, because they were not adding value to the lives of the people. She also proposed that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) should be brought in so that learning about life orientation could start at lower levels, and some of the programmes of the Commission could be introduced for children to understand that religion was a choice, and not something that was enforced upon an individual. At the same time, children making that choice needed to know there was nobody who was superior to others, and as much as one was a leader in a church, he/she could not be above everybody. In addition, there was the constitution of the country which gave advice on human rights. Therefore, the Commission should bring in the DBE to ensure that learning about these issues starts at a lower level.
Mr K Mileham (DA) said he was concerned that the Commission was focusing on areas that were not really its responsibility. For example, Ms Mkwanazi was talking about rights, but what happened if his belief said he should not change his clothes, but wanted to be a member of the South African Police Services (SAPS), where he had to wear a uniform? Secondly, she had said that dead people had rights. Which were more important -- the rights of a dead person, or those of a living person? He asked for clarity with regard to the notion that there was a constitutional right to be buried in a grave, because there was nothing in the constitution which stated that. Had the Commission looked at alternatives to graves, because as the population grows, space becomes a problem for municipalities? What alternatives had it explored and discussed with municipalities and communities so as to alleviate that problem? He said that on initiation deaths, it seemed as if there was duplication in terms of what the Department of Traditional Affairs was doing and what the Commission was doing.
Mr Mileham said that he was concerned about the regulation of the religious sector, because in the Bill of Rights, section 15 of the Constitution, it states that everyone has the right of freedom, of conscience, religion, and thoughtful opinion. However, as soon as one started regulating that right, one was infringing on it. There should be oversight in the religious sector, but regulating it was a step too far.
Generally speaking, it was a good report because the Commission had met all the targets it had set for itself, and well done on that. However, he was a little concerned about the fruitless and wasteful expenditure, even though it was a small amount. The fact that it had arisen was a matter of concern, because the Commission had taken a decision and a year later reversed it after incurring costs, which clearly indicated that the Commission did not have its eyes on the ball in terms of finances.
Mr N Masondo (ANC) said that the issue of the rights of dead people was a very important issue, because in African culture there was respect for the dead and this issue was linked to religion. What should be done was to reach across South Africa to all racial groups, believers and non-believers, through education so that there was balance and assurance of national cohesion on this matter.
Ms Mkwanazi responded that the CRLRC had been linking with other departments. For instance, it had a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the National House of Traditional Leaders, with which it was working. It had actually signed several MOUs with a whole range of other institutions, because it needed to share resources. The Commission was also looking at donors. For instance, on 26 October it would be in Parliament to sign an MOU with the German Foundation, where they would be looking at sharing resources to fund some of the Commission’s activities. Therefore, it was also looking outside government to supplement the work it was doing.
On the issue of fast tracking legislation on religion, the issue of doctrines were not on the table. The CRLRC was not worried about how people prayed, what they did and what they believed in, and so on. It was concerned about legality issues. For instance, if one started a church and took collections, there should be laws to protect the community. So it was the technical aspects that the Commission felt would deal with the other bigger issues. However, part of what it was recommending in the legislation was to professionalise the business of religion, just like lawyers, auditors, nurses or teachers. They all have peer review mechanisms, so that one’s peers could sit down and say this matter of eating snakes was in the Bible, and was acceptable. It was not for the Commission to say whether it was right or wrong -- they needed their peers to review that.
However, it became really dangerous when people believed everything someone told them and mesmerised their brains to do anything. It became very dangerous to the security of the state as well, because at some point believers would be asked to carry bombs on themselves to go and blow up malls. The Commission had seen how far this situation had gone, because people were ready to kill for one particular man, and if they gave you a message in an email to leave their pastor alone, then one would know how far they were willing to go. They were going beyond how one preached or how to pray, or even if praying to a pumpkin was acceptable, but in the business of praying to a pumpkin, one should act within the prescripts of the law. Therefore, peer review would mean that other people who were leaders in that particular sector should be allowed to say that this practice was outside their framework, and one could not practise it any more.
The conclusion was very clear -- that the Commission needed to protect the cultural and religious rights of the community, not individuals. It was the religious community that needed protection at this stage. Therefore, the CRLRC agreed that it needed to fast track legislation, and the leaders of various religions wanted to come and present to the Committee in order to express the urgency of the legislation before it became a crisis.
Ms Mkwanazi said that the Commission agreed totally on the issue of the role of the DBE. It had been talking to people who were responsible for life orientation in the Department, because all these issues of intolerance for other people’s religions and beliefs started at a very young age. Whatever the parents or a community said about biases, there should be a syllabus at schools that explained religious beliefs and other issues of various religions, so that children at a later stage could make informed decisions on which religion to follow.
She responded on the issue of the CRLRC getting involved in areas which were not their responsibility. She said that while the Department was looking at how at making the system of initiations better, the Commission was investigating what it was that was killing young people. Why had no one been arrested? People were dying, and there was no inquest, so one had to look at existing legislation. When the Commission had started, it had had to look at how the different departments enforced the law. It concerned the enforcement of the law before the creation of the law. There were laws against people beating others to death. Therefore, what the Commission was looking at why the law was not enforced in this particular area, while the Department was looking at what legislation it could come up with. Therefore, they were not duplicating their activities, but were investigating why systems were falling apart.
Graves were critical to people, and the only thing they were promised in terms of Christianity was that one would rest in peace at some point, no matter how tough one’s life on earth. However, beyond that, people of certain beliefs want access to the graves, and what they are saying to the municipalities is that there are space shortages in other places and the municipality must bury family members in one grave so that when they want to access their family members, they could access them in that one particular grave. That shows respect for people’s cultural rights, and that was the right that people who were dead or alive had. The other alternative was the issue of cremation, which was much practised by Hindus, and was an alternative which was open to other cultures as well.
The Chairperson thanked Ms Mkwanazi and her delegation for the presentation and answers. The Committee was aware that this was a delicate matter they were dealing with, and should engage on it very carefully without offending anybody in terms of culture, religion and language. The Committee was looking forward to its next engagement with the Commission.
The adoption of minutes was deferred to the next meeting of the Committee.
The meeting was adjourned.