/ 9 April 2008

Rights commission hits back at Makoe

Claims by chairperson of the Forum for Black Journalists (FBJ) Abbey Makoe are ”mischievous” and ”untruthful”, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Wednesday.

Makoe, in remarks following the SAHRC finding on Tuesday that the FBJ’s blacks-only membership policy was unconstitutional, said the FBJ only heard that it was going to be ”banned” last Friday and that the finding amounted to a ”judicial ambush”.

In a statement, the SAHRC said the FBJ had been given sufficient opportunity to respond to complaints that it excluded some members of the media from a function with African National Congress president Jacob Zuma based solely on race.

It said Makoe had ”conveniently omitted” to share with the public that the SAHRC had written to him on March 4, requesting a response by March 18. When no response was received, it wrote to him again on March 17, and again received no reply.

”Clearly, it stands to reason that Mr Makoe and his organisation were indeed given sufficient opportunity to respond to the complaint against them.”

The SAHRC said a panel discussion held earlier in the year — an open session on racism following the complaint — was never intended to be a substitute for the commission’s normal procedures.

”The South African Human Rights Commission refutes mischievous and untruthful claims … that … it only dawned on them [the FBJ] that the commission had dealt with the complaint against them through its legal procedures only on Friday April 4, and was deliberately lulled into a false sense of expectation by the commission chairperson [Jody Kollapen].”

On Tuesday Kollapen said the commission found in favour of complainant Katy Katopodis, Talk Radio 702 news editor, that an organisation such as the FBJ was unconstitutional.

The commission also rejected Makoe’s claims that it had, in effect, banned the FBJ and criminalised blackness.

”The FBJ can continue in its activities but should do so within the parameters of the Equality Act, which provides that the exclusion of particular people solely on the basis of race is prohibited.”

The SAHRC maintained that it would have no problem with the FBJ should it amend that part of its constitution relating to membership and open its doors to anyone who subscribed to its principles. This included being committed to the advancement and empowerment of black journalists.

”In addition, the commission rejects suggestions that it is opposed to the advancement of the disadvantaged through programmes such black economic empowerment and affirmative action,” it said.

Concluding the commission’s finding on Tuesday, Kollapen said he expected ”arrows” to be fired in his direction and that he may be labelled a racist.

”I have in the past few weeks been labelled a racist by white people. I am expecting I will be labelled a racist by others.

”I will take the arrows that come,” he said.

He said the commission did not undertake the work it had been mandated to do with the intention of making friends.

”We welcome and expect criticism,” he said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Democratic Alliance supported the commission’s finding, saying it upheld the Bill of Rights. — Sapa