15 January 2013

South Africa: Court Gives Go Ahead for Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry

It took less than five minutes for Western Cape High Court Deputy Judge President Jeanette Traverso, to hand down judgement that an application for an interdict by police minister Nathi Mthethwa, against the commission of inquiry into policing in Khayelitsha was dismissed with costs.

Packed to its maximum capacity, the court room was filled with members from different civil society organisations.

The commission was due to start on 12 November but was put on hold because of this court case.

The court was split however. In the majority judgement Judge James Yekiso wrote that the applicants had failed to make a case that Premier Zille, in establishing the commission, had violated the co-operative governance provisions of the Constitution. Judge Traverso agreed. Judge Vincent Saldanha, however, disagreed pt.1 pt.2. He said that the parties had not met the constitutional obligations that deal with intergovernmental relations. He said that concerns raised by Mandla Majola of the Social Justice Coalition --the ninth respondent in the case-- would not be addressed unless there was more co-operation between the national and provincial governments. He would have ordered the provincial and national government participants in the case to engage with each other and report back to the court by 31 January 2013.

Spokesperson for Mthethwa, Zweli Mnisi, had said the appointment of the commission was a political agenda on Premier Zille's part.

The Social Justice Coalition led the civil society effort to get the province to order a Commission of Inquiry. The organisation's Axolile Notywala said they were delighted with the judgement but were sad that it took so long and had to be a political battle between the police minister and Zille. Looking forward to the Inquiry, he said, "There is now a lot of work to do, for example, collecting more testimonials from Khayelitsha residents about crime in the township."

At a press briefing held after the judgment was handed down, Ndifuna Ukwazi's Zackie Achmat said the police minister had suffered a resounding defeat. He said that the majority judgement found that the Premier had the power to order the commission, the commission had the power to subpoena, the commission should continue and that crime was a big problem in the township.

Zak Mbhele, spokesperson for Zille said they were pleased with the judgement and it was a great example of the power of the province. "We are glad now that the commission will continue. The public hearings were suspended because of the interdict so it is up to the commission when exactly they will continue, but we hope it will be as soon as possible," he said.

Mnisi said: "We have noted the judgement and are going through it with our lawyers. Once we have gone through everything, we will then decide a way forward."

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