In August last year, the Moerane commission of inquiry into the killing of political office bearers in KwaZulu-Natal was faced with a pivotal decision, which would define how far it would — or would not — go to unmask those behind the wave of murders that has swept the province since 2015.
During a hearing to discuss the assassination on March 6 of Richmond municipal manager Sibusiso Sithole, an attempt was made by Democratic Alliance MP Dean Macpherson to introduce an affidavit Sithole had made a few days before his murder.
In the affidavit, Sithole names council officials and a number of business people as being involved in corruption at the municipality. Sithole gave the affidavit to the police and asked them to investigate the claims.
Advocate Bheki Manyathi, evidence leader for the commission, objected to the affidavit being tabled, saying it named people. The role of the commission, Manyathi said, was to make broad recommendations and not to ensure a conviction against anybody.
Manyathi’s submission went unquestioned by commission chairperson advocate Marumo Moerane SC, and his co-commissioners, Vasu Gounden and Professor Cheryl Potgieter. The affidavit was out.
The decision made it clear that the commission would not be suggesting that anybody be prosecuted.
The commission was restricted by its terms of reference, which tasked it with investigating the underlying causes of the killings and to make recommendations to prevent them continuing. But it could have used its ability to deal with any matter it deemed appropriate to say more than it did.
Its report, made public on Thursday in the KwaZulu-Natal legislature by Premier Willies Mchunu, who appointed it in 2016 with an initial budget of R15-million, lives up to that lack of promise.
Despite spanning 424 pages of testimony from more than 60 witnesses, including the families of victims, political parties, the security forces and civil society, the report contains 13 bland recommendations that, while making broadly helpful proposals, hold nobody directly responsible for the killings.
Although the recommendations do tabulate basic ground rules for political activity and proper governance, they state the obvious, rather than providing a solution to the killings that started in 2015 and are continuing.
During its more than 12 months of hearings, the commission heard claims of police complicity and direct involvement in the killings in the Glebelands Hostel. Witnesses also alleged police negligence in investigations into political killings in Richmond, Pongola and Durban and the direct involvement of the police’s crime intelligence unit in the Umzimkhulu area.
The attention drawn by the commission, and the murder of former ANC Youth League secretary general Sindiso Magaqa at Umzimkhulu while it was sitting, have forced national police intervention in KwaZulu-Natal, with arrests taking place since late last year.
But the bulk of the murders — more than 120 people have been killed at the Glebelands Hostel alone — have not been solved.
The report recommends that political parties must “take responsibility for the violent competition between their members for political positions and power”.
Parties should carry out political education about the “universal practice of peaceful political competition”, discipline their members and report those who are involved in killings to the police.
Parties should settle differences “through peaceful means”, the report recommends.
It also recommends that the state depoliticise and professionalise the public service, including the security and intelligence sector.
Further, government functionaries must, without exception, have the appropriate qualifications for their jobs, while “political deployment of persons as government functionaries into positions without appropriate qualifications must be discouraged and eliminated as a practice”.
“The allegations of corrupt activities and the criminal acts by politicians, public officials and business people must be vigorously investigated and those against whom there is evidence of corruption must be expeditiously prosecuted, and if found guilty, must be appropriately sentenced to rebuild the confidence of the public in the public service and to avoid building a culture of impunity,” it recommends.
The report also recommends that an inter-ministerial task team in the security cluster review the workings of the security agencies and that properly qualified personnel be recruited. Political parties and state institutions should provide training so that elected public officials are “well prepared for the tasks that they are expected to carry out”.
Parties should work with civil society to “reverse the current culture of intolerance, violence and killings” and enforce a strict code of conduct preventing incitement to violence by their members and leaders.
The report also tabulates the testimony and recommendations made by each witness but does not include a transcript of the evidence. Civil society organisations have demanded that the premier make these public.
The report will be referred to the Cabinet for consideration.
Activist Vanessa Burger, who helped secure the intervention at Glebelands and who testified at the commission, said the report’s failure to recommend action against parties implicated during the hearings meant there was “no accountability”.
“If the commission is unwilling to make recommendations regarding prosecutions, there can be no accountability and justice will not be done,” Burger said.
“As a result, senior police officers suspected of wrongdoing will be permitted to remain within the SAPS [South African Police Service] to continue their seemingly nefarious activities.”
She said that if the premier and the commission were “unwilling to fulfil their responsibility to the people of the province”, the public had a duty to ensure that higher authorities intervened.