Arms deal group condemns 'racist' commission statements

The Seriti commission has labelled a campaign to disband the inquiry as 'a small group of black people' and 'mere foot soldiers'. (Brendon Croft, Foto24)

The Seriti commission has labelled a campaign to disband the inquiry as 'a small group of black people' and 'mere foot soldiers'. (Brendon Croft, Foto24)

A group of civil society organisations calling themselves the arms deal focus group has condemned a “racist” statement, issued on behalf of the arms deal commission of inquiry. 

The commission’s statement condemned a call by the group for the commission to be disbanded.

The group comprises of the Right2Know Campaign (R2K), Corruption Watch, Awethu! and Section27. On September 29, R2K picketed outside the department of justice and constitutional development, calling for the scrapping of the Sereti commission on inquiry.

The group’s campaign said the commission appeared intent on whitewashing the R70-billion arms deal. Spokesperson Bongani Xezwi said: “We no longer have faith in it, we have seen judges pulling out, we have seen witnesses pulling out because Judge [Willie] Seriti won’t allow them to give evidence.”

‘Mere foot soldiers’
The commission, via its spokesperson William Baloyi, hit back. Baloyi charged that those protesting were “mere foot soldiers” acting on behalf of critics Andrew Feinstein, Hennie Van Vuuren and Paul Holden. Baloyi threatened that it was a criminal offense to insult Seriti or the commission.

“What really concerns us is not their call for dissolution as such but rather the misinformation peddled and the false allegations made to justify the call,” Baloyi said.

“The commission wishes to caution members of the public and interested parties that it is a criminal offence to, inter alia, disparage or insult the commission or its members.”

“The commission has thus far been extremely reluctant to invoke the powers it has in terms of the regulations to initiate criminal proceedings and other legal measures at its disposal against people who maliciously vilify it or its chairperson but it may be forced to do so if the disparaging and insults persist,” Baloyi added.

‘People being used’
He said the picket, by a “small group of black people”, was a “sad case of people simply being used”.
Baloyi added that it was clear the picketers were uninformed about the commission.

The arms deal focus group on Tuesday said Baloyi’s remarks were “arrogant” and “racist”. They said more than 30 organisations had joined their call for the commission to be dissolved.   

“It is disheartening for the commission spokesperson to label concerned citizens – members of the R2K Gauteng working group – as ‘a small group of black people’ and ‘mere foot soldiers’. Such utterances show the arrogance and lack of understanding of citizen activism and its role in deepening democracy,” the group said in a statement.

The focus group wrote to the commissioners, Seriti and Thekiso Musi, for clarity on the statement. Baloyi said the picketers should engage with the commission.

On Tuesday, the group said, “The Right2Know Campaign and the supporting organisations will gladly engage Baloyi on our concerns and to reiterate our stand on why we strongly feel that the commission is a whitewash. We would like to meet at a community hall in Soweto to also give community members an opportunity to ask questions on a date convenient to Baloyi,” the group said.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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