No love lost for Janet

Constitutional lawyers, legal academics and human rights and social justice activists have come out in defence of Janet Love’s appointment to the South African Human Rights Commission (HRC), after repeated attacks on the decision by Western Cape Premier and Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille.

Zille renewed her attack on Love, a former ANC national executive committee member and director of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), in her online letter, SA Today, earlier this month.

However, the Mail & Guardian has confirmed that in spite of Zille’s objections, the DA supported Love’s appointment to the HRC in Parliament last year.

In an interview with the M&G Zille stuck to her guns, arguing that her criticism stemmed from concerns that Love’s appointment went to the heart of ANC cadre deployment across key institutions in South Africa.

Her repeated attacks, including a right to reply in the M&G, have prompted an open letter in Love’s defence signed by advocate Geoff Budlender, HIV/Aids activist Zackie Achmat, Idasa head Judith February and Bishop Paul Verryn, among others.

“We are surprised and dismayed by Premier Helen Zille’s implication that [Love] will not act independently of narrow party politics in her capacity as a human rights commissioner,” the letter says.

“Under the leadership of Janet Love, the LRC has fought fearlessly for the rights of the poor and powerless, without favour to the ANC or any other political party.”

Criticising Love’s appointment in SA Today earlier this month, Zille quoted ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe saying at the party’s recent national general council that Love had resigned from the NEC, with police commissioner Bheki Cele, as a result of their “deployment to strategic state departments and institutions”.

The DA’s support for Love’s appointment in Parliament last year was confirmed by Dene Smuts, the DA’s shadow minister of justice and constitutional development and a member of Parliament’s justice committee, which interviewed candidates.

Asked why he had signed the letter, Budlender told the M&G that criticism of Love implied that she would not be independent or committed to the cause of human rights.

“This criticism is simply not justified,” he said.

The letter listed a host of cases that Love had worked on during her time at the LRC, including the case of Dingaan Nyathi, who was left paralysed as a result of medical negligence at a state hospital, in which the national government was challenged about its failure to satisfy court orders made against it, prompting censure from the Constitutional Court.

Other examples of her independence of mind while at the LRC included numerous successful challenges to the maladministration of the social grants system, particularly in the Eastern Cape; challenging the “political pardons” process undertaken by President Jacob Zuma; and challenging the prosecutions policy of the National Prosecuting Authority on the basis that it undermined the independence of the NPA from the national executive.

Zille was adamant, that her criticism was not a personal attack on Love.
“The issue is not about Janet Love,” Zille said. “It is about the ANC’s deployment of cadres to institutions that were established by the Constitution to be independent and limit abuse of power.”

She said Mantashe had admitted that Love was deployed to the HRC because it is “a strategic state department and institution”.

“As an ANC deployee, Love is duty-bound to promote the ANC’s interests at the Human Rights Commission. If she defies her party, she will be redeployed, just as Vusi Pikoli was.”

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