SAHRC in hot water again over report tampering allegations

The South African Human Rights Commission is once again embroiled in controversy, with its former chairperson, Lawrence Mushwana, facing fresh allegations of report tampering.

The report in question followed an investigation into alleged anti-semitic comments made by Marius Fransman, the former African National Congress Western Cape chairperson.

The South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) filed papers at the Johannesburg High Court two weeks ago requesting a review of the final report, which while identical to the preliminary report in every other respect, makes different findings to that report.

The issue goes back to 2013 when the SAJBD filed a complaint with the SAHRC against Fransman, accusing him of making anti-semitic comments during an interview on a Cape Town radio station.

According to the court papers Fransman said that the Democratic Alliance had given over building contracts historically held by Muslims to the Jewish community.

The SAJBD subsequently asked Fransman to apologise for his “anti-semitic” comments. However, according to the papers, Fransman called for the board to be more patriotic instead, adding that the question should be asked whether they represent South African Jews or the Israeli government.

In a media interview at the time, Fransman was quoted as saying that the Jewish Board should “act South African … not holier than thou,” in response to the SAJBD’s decision to lodge a complaint with the SAHRC.

“The crux of the SAJBD’s complaint was that certain comments made by Mr Fransman in various public appearances … violated the rights to equity and human dignity of Jewish people,” read the SAJBD’s court papers.

Numerous conciliation meetings were held between the two parties. But according to the SAJBD, Fransman continued to make “inflammatory and derogatory statements about the Jewish community”.

Then in December last year the commission’s provincial manager in the Western Cape, Karam Singh, found that “the complainant’s right to dignity had been infringed by Mr Fransman,” and that the ANC provincial head should “apologise … within one month”.

Six months later however, according to the court papers Mushwana contravened the body’s usual protocols to sign off on the final report, finding that the ANC provincial head’s “utterances did not constitute a violation of the Jewish community’s right to equality and dignity”.

The final report neglected to make any recommendations and also referred any appeals to the Equality Court. The parties involved are privy to the preliminary report, and are allowed to comment on it – but the final report stated that Fransman’s comments did not influence the findings.

In the court papers filed, the SAJBD said that it was “clear that the SAHRC acted unlawfully and irrationally in altering its findings and recommendations in the preliminary report”.

“The SAHRC’s findings and recommendations on human dignity were completely altered and no explanation was provided … Consequently the final finding on human dignity is irrational.”

This latest instance is not an isolated one. Last month the Mail and Guardian reported that numerous staff members had voiced their complaints against Mushwana and SAHRC commissioner Lindiwe Mokate, including allegations of report tampering.

At the time a former senior official in the commission cited the investigation into comments made by King Goodwill Zwelithini during the xenophobic attacks two years ago, when Zwelithini accused government of failing to protect locals from the “influx of foreign nationals”.

According to the official, Mushwana took over the case, sidelining everyone he did not trust – including the head of legal affairs, who should oversee most investigations.

“The end result is what many there believe is a sanitised version of the report, which will go down in history as the worst last report for the retiring commissioners,” said the employee. The body is in the process of finalising a new list of commissioners.

But Mushwana denied that anything untoward had taken place and at the time said that he had to take over the investigation because he’d received a flurry of complaints from various parts of the country.

Meanwhile the National Director of the SAJBD would only say that they are privileged to live in a constitutional democracy. “As a result we are seeking a review and setting aside of [Mushwana’s] finding and asking the court to send the matter back to the SAHRC for reconsideration.”


Fransman still awaiting outcome of sexual harassment case

While whether or not Fransman will have to apologise to the SAJBD hinges on the court’s decision, the beleaguered former African National Congress Western Cape chairperson is still awaiting the outcome of a case that involves sexual harrassment charges.

Louisa Wynand, a young woman from Cape Town, accused Fransman of touching her inappropriately and forcing her to share a bed with him while they were on their way to the ANC’s birthday celebrations in the North West in January.

The case docket was supposed to have been handed over to the Northern Cape’s deputy public prosecutor (DPP) more than a week ago, but according to the NPA spokesperson in the Northern Cape, Phaladi Shuping, there were still a few issues that had to be finalised.

“When the DPP received the docket there were a lot of things outstanding and issues that needed further investigation. But as far as we understand the investigating officer is nearly done,” he said.

The ANC sanctioned Fransman by suspending him for five years for alleged sexual harassment.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Athandiwe Saba
Athandiwe Saba

Athandiwe Saba is a multi award-winning journalist who is passionate about data, human interest issues, governance and everything that isn’t on social media. She is an author, an avid reader and trying to find the answer to the perfect balance between investigative journalism, online audiences and the decline in newspaper sales. It’s a rough world and a rewarding profession.

Advertisting

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world