The final report of the Moerane commission into political killings in KwaZulu-Natal will not be made public, the premier’s office said this week, confirming the concerns of witnesses and civil society organisations.
Last week, Premier Willies Mchunu again extended the commission’s timeframe, this time to allow chairperson Marumo Moerane and commissioners Vasu Gounden and Cheryl Potgieter to hear incomplete evidence from the police and to write their report by April 30. The report will be delivered to Mchunu.
But “the full report once finalised will not be made public for a number of reasons, including protecting the witnesses. Its recommendations will, however, be implemented,” spokesperson Thami Ngidi said.
Mchunu appointed the commission following a wave of political killings, mostly of ANC councillors, before the 2016 local government elections. The commission’s terms of reference are to investigate the underlying causes of the killings and to come up with recommendations based on the evidence from the security forces, victims, families, political parties and local government.
The commission, which has a budget of R15-million, has already had its term extended twice because of a slow start caused by the difficulty in securing witnesses.
During the hearing, Moerane made it clear that the commissioners wanted their report to be as transparent as possible and that the various government agencies act on its recommendations in a bid to prevent further loss of life.
Moerane spoke about his frustration that the report of a commission of inquiry into murders at the University of Zululand, in which he had participated in the 1980s, had never seen light of day and was “still gathering dust”. He said he hoped the current commission would not suffer a similar fate.
The report of the commission into the Shobashobane Massacre near Port Shepstone in 1995 has never been made public by the province, nor that of a commission into taxi killings in 2000.
On Monday, the commission will hear testimony from its last witnesses, police acting provincial commissioner Major General Bheki Langa and two brigadiers tasked with delivering the long-awaited detailed responses to allegations of police incompetence and involvement in covering up some of the killings.
Violence monitor Mary de Haas, who gave evidence at the Moerane commission, said she was unhappy about the lack of transparency of its findings. She also questioned whether the government had the political will to implement them.
“There have been a number of commissions of inquiry in KwaZulu-Natal since 1994 but the findings of most of them have never seen the public light of day, let alone any constructive follow-up action,” she said.
“Even the best of commissions can only make recommendations. The decisions about whether, and how, to implement them lie with those who appointed them.
“In this case, it is the very same people who must take responsibility for the generally dysfunctional state of the criminal justice system, which has permitted the shadowy forces behind the violence to act with impunity. Thus far, the political will to deal effectively with them has been conspicuously absent.”
She said the report needed to be made public, not only to assist in ensuring its recommendations were implemented but because it had been held at taxpayers’ cost.
The Centre for Civil Society (CCS) is hosting public lectures focusing on Moerane and other commissions to ensure they ended in action by the government. It is also aggrieved by Mchunu’s decision not to release the report.
“Whenever there is an issue that becomes a problem politically and in the public realm, we see government appointing a commission, with a subsequent lack of follow-up,” said CCS spokesperson Gerard Boyce. “If the state calls a commission, surely there should be public access to the information coming from it. These are matters of public interest and the state needs to be held accountable.”
Ngidi said he could not comment on the previous reports but added: “The decision to constitute a commission is made by an executive and they have the final say on the processing of the report once completed.”
Commission secretary Solo Mdledle said that, although the commissioners were “generally happy” that the commission had covered enough ground to identify the underlying causes of the killings, it did not have enough time to investigate many of them properly. Several killings took place during the commission’s term.
Mdledle said “quite a few” witnesses, particularly the families of victims, had pulled out of the process because of fears for their safety. Others had been unwilling to undergo the secondary trauma of reliving the killings of their loved ones in public.
“Some feared for their lives. Time was not enough. It is never enough because we are dealing with so many people being killed … some of them while we were sitting,” he said.
“As we are investigating the underlying causes, and not the direct causes, of the killings, we are happy with the sample that we covered. We could have utilised more time.”
Mdledle said the commissioners had no control over what Mchunu would do with the report.
“Once we have finalised a report, we hand it over and it becomes the property of the office of the premier. You would recall that the chairperson did indicate that, as the commission, we would have loved to see some action on the recommendations.
“That is the wish of the commissioners. We have heard accusations that there are so many commission reports gathering dust. The commissioners did say that they will try to make sure that some action does take place,” Mdledle said.