Vacancy for Human Rights Commissioner: Interviews, Deliberations and Finalisation

Appointment to the South African Commission on Human Rights

11 November 2008
Chairperson: Adv C Johnson(ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee continued with its interviews for the filling of the vacancies on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), interviewing Ms M Mentor, Ms R Kadalie, and Ms P Govender. Each of the candidates was asked to give a brief background to themselves. Members then asked questions: these questions are recorded in this report, but the answers may be heard on the attached audio recording. Questions put to the various candidates included what measure would be used to reach marginalized communities, the attitude towards housing, balancing the rights of rural women with customary law, the tools that could be used by the Commission, the comments upon utterances calling for a return to the death penalty, enforcing completion of schooling and other issues. Other questions were asked as to how the candidates would respond to conflict situations and racial tensions, what issues were considered to be most pressing, what was seen to be positive about the current workings of the Commission, and how best to ensure independence. Candidates were also asked to comment on the report on the Chapter 9 institutions, and the current work of the Commission.

Although the deliberations were not closed to the public, the Committee requested the media not to report on that part of the meeting. Upon finalisation of the proceedings, it was announced that Pregs Govender had been the selected as a new Commissioner of the South African Human Rights Commission.

Meeting report

South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC): Interviews to fill vacancies
The Committee continued with its interviews of candidates for the filling of vacancies on the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC). The questions are recorded in this Minute, and full responses from the candidates can be heard on the audio recording.

Interview: Ms Mabel Mentor
The Chairperson mentioned to the M F Mentor was an ANC Member of Parliament and that if she were appointed to the SAHRC she would automatically lose her position as a Member of Parliament. She asked Ms Mentor to give a brief background to herself.

Ms M Mentor said that she was born in the Northern Cape, and had joined the ANC as a teenager. She then went on to work for the ANC underground structures. She is a trained teacher in maths, science and biology and taught while working for the ANC underground. Ms Mentor served with Mr R Van der Heever in the National Education Co-ordinating Council against apartheid education. Later she had worked for the Detainees Parent Support Committee, co-ordinating hunger strikes with her former lawyer, who was now a South African Ambassador in Netherlands. She was later on appointed by the then-Minister of Health Ms Nkosazana Zuma, to be community representative on the South African Nursing Council dealing with ethical issues. Ms Mentor then went on to serve in the Mayoral Council of Francis Baard in the Northern Cape, heading Social Development. She was currently studying for her Masters degree in Security Studies.

Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC) asked about the means that the interviewee would use to promote the Human Rights Commission to the poor and the marginalised communities. He then asked about measures that Ms Mentor would use to reach the rural communities.
Adv L Joubert (DA) said that when he had brought a private Members’ Bill attempting to halt sales in execution against Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) houses. Ms Mentor had not supported that Bill. He asked how could she champion human rights if she could not protect the right to housing.

Ms E Ngaleka (ANC) asked how would Ms Mentor balance the rights of rural women with customary law. She also wanted to know how she would have handled the violence inciting utterances by some political figures, had she been serving on the Commission at the time.

Ms S Seaton (IFP) spoke about Ms Mentor’s position as Chairperson of the Standing Committee to consider Private Members’ Bills, noting that when legislation had gone beyond the Committee it was no longer in the hands of the Chairperson. She asked about the relationship between Parliament and the SAHRC.

Mr M Masutha (ANC)  asked about the tools that could be used by the Commission to make Parliament toe the line.

The Chairperson invited Ms Mentor to ask any questions. She asked when the appointee would be expected to start, and what was the expected salary package.

Ms Rhoda Kadalie
The Chairperson asked Ms Rhoda Kadalie to introduce herself.

Ms Kadalie said that she had worked as academic at the University of Western Cape (UWC) and she had studied Library Science at the same University. She also studied further in Netherlands. She returned to South Africa to set up the Gender Institute at UWC. She mentioned that she had considerable experience in policy work, and she had also worked for trade unions training women on gender equality. Ms Kadalie then served for three years as Commissioner for the SAHRC. She then left for the Land Claims Commission, which was under-funded. The Land Claims Commission managed to raise funds from the USAID. While working for the Land Claims Commission she pioneered the use new software that would help claimants with their claims. Ms Kadalie was now the Executive Director for the Impumelelo Innovation Awards.

Mr Joubert asked the reason that Ms Kadalie left the SAHRC.

Ms D Smuts (DA) asked how Ms Kadalie would have responded to utterances by Mr Jacob Zuma such as the call for a return to death penalty, that teenage mothers should give up their babies and the State should force them to study. She also asked how would Ms Kadalie reconcile her roles as columnist for Business Day and a Commissioner.

Ms Ngaleka asked how Ms Kadalie would respond to conflict situations if she were appointed to serve on the SAHRC, and also how she would respond to racial tensions.

Mr Sibanyoni went through some of the things mentioned in a report about Ms Kadalie, concerning conflict situations in her previous position. That report mentioned that she refused mediation that was to be conducted by a neutral Ms Allison Tilley.

Mr M Sonto (ANC) said that it seemed that she still had some problems with the South African Human Rights Commission, and he therefore could not understand why she had applied for a position in the same organisation.

Ms A Van Wyk (ANC) asked what issues would Ms Kadalie take up immediately if she were appointed.

Dr G Woods (Nadeco) asked about the positives aspects that she could highlight in the current SAHRC,

The Chairperson mentioned that the Parliament was briefed by the SAHRC on Xenophobia.

Mr Masutha concurred with the Chairperson, and added that the issue was investigated, and they were still waiting for a report.

Mr Masutha asked Ms Kadalie what she regarded as her weaknesses. He further enquired what she would do, if appointed, to ensure that SAHRC remained independent, and what biases would she bring into the organisation.

Ms Pregs Govender
The Chairperson asked Ms Govender to introduce herself.

Ms Govender said that she was involved with building women in politics nationally and internationally. She had been a Member of Parliament from 1994 to 2002, and she had chaired the Joint Monitoring Committee on the Status of Women. She pioneered the concept of women’s budgets, because women formed the poorest section of our society. This meant that they had to evaluate a list of priorities for poor women. She mentioned that she had worked in the National Women’s Coalition that was composed of urban and rural women. Ms Govender then set up the Workers College and trained woman within the labour movement. She went on to work as an educator for the Clothing and Textile Workers Union. Prior to that she had also worked for the University of Durban Westville in teaching research.

Questions (see recording for responses)
Ms D Smuts mentioned that Ms Govender had worked on the Bill of Rights, especially regarding HIV/AIDS. She asked how would Ms Govender use that experience in the SAHRC.

Adv Joubert asked if she had resigned from Parliament because of the arms deal scandal.

Dr Woods asked if Ms Govender would be able to relocate to other provinces.

Ms Van Wyk asked Ms Govender how she would improve on the current work of the SAHRC if she were to be appointed.

Ms Ngaleka asked Ms Govender’s views on Dr Asmal’s report on the Chapter 9 institutions.

Mr Sonto said that the rights of criminals were often seemingly upheld more than the law-abiding citizens, and he asked for comment. He also asked for a comment on matters between the SAHRC and the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB).

Ms Smuts asked Ms Govender’s views on the view that had been expressed that some people should lose the right to silence.

After Ms Govender had responded to these questions, the Chairperson invited her to ask questions.

Ms Govender enquired about the blurred lines of communication within the SAHRC leadership.

Ms Zonke Majodina, Commissioner, SAHRC, replied that the lines of communication and responsibility lay between the CEO and the Chairperson of the SAHRC. The lines of accountability should be clearly defined.

Ms Govender addressed the issue of financial authority in terms of salary payments and salary scales for the Chairperson, the CEO and Commissioners of the SAHRC. She stated that the salary was often a reflection of the level of authority that one had within an entity. She asked the SAHRC to comment on this.

Ms Majodina stated that as it stood at the moment, the Chairperson earned the most, followed by the CEO, then the Deputy Chairperson and the other Commissioners. The SAHRC realised that this was an anomaly that had to be corrected. There was a move to align the Human Rights Commission Act with the Public Finance Management Act and the Constitution as the Act was outdated. 

Ms Govender asked what the Committee’s vision was for the SAHRC, what they saw as key challenges in relation to human rights in South Africa, and what they wanted the commissioners to do to address these challenges.   

The Chairperson stated that one of the most important challenges was to try to build Chapter 9 bodies that were independent and free from prejudice so that the bodies could have an impact on peoples lives. She hoped that the recommendations of the Asmal Report would move forward as many problems had been addressed during deliberations on the Report. The SAHRC needed to find a way to become relevant without coming up with "quick-fix" solutions.

Ms Smuts stated that greater partnerships and greater responsibility was needed. If there was a good relationship between the SAHRC and Parliament, then the SAHRC would be able to proceed and address issues well. She thought that the SAHRC could take on a more proactive and educational role. 

Deliberations and finalisation
The Chair requested the media not to report on the Committee deliberations.

Upon completion of the deliberations, it was announced that Ms Pregs Govender had been selected as the new Commissioner of the SAHRC.

The meeting was adjourned.


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