CCS: Of Corruption and Commissions but no Conclusions Seminar Series 2017 / 2018 – The Moerane Commission
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Background: South Africa has seen a number of Commissions of Inquiry in the post-apartheid era. Dale McKinley has posed the question: ‘Commissions of Inquiry or Omission?’ McKinley’s concern is ‘whether Commissions have achieved anything other than to soak up large amounts of public monies, to control and manipulate public opinion and attention, to avoid political accountability and individual responsibility, to cover-up criminal behaviour, and generally act as vehicles for doing little to nothing?’ This seminar series seeks to highlight the impact of Commissions in a sustained discussion on corruption and democracy in South Africa.
During the apartheid years a common government tactic, when in a tight corner, was to establish Commissions of Inquiry – which seldom led to any startling revelations. One of the exceptions was the Goldstone Commission of the early 1990s but that too faced limitations because the institutions it relied on to implement its findings were themselves compromised.
There have been a number of Commissions of Inquiry in KZN since 1994, but the findings of most of them have never seen the public light of day, let alone any constructive follow up action. Whether we can expect better in the case of the Moerane Commission, in terms of (1) its uncovering the root causes of the violence, and (2) the probability of court actions exposing those behind it is the question I explore in this seminar.
I start with a brief overview of the situation which led to the establishment of the Commission, its mandate, and the type of evidence presented to it. I then go on to examine the structural context in which it is operating, as it relates to political variables and extremely serious problems in the criminal justice system.
Given that the Commission is yet to present its findings and recommendations, it is impossible to provide a definitive answer to the question I asked, but I argue that the odds are stacked against its work, in itself, leading to changes which are essential if the scourge of criminal violence used for political ends is to be adequately addressed. Even the best of Commissions can only make recommendations, and 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.
Mary de Haas is a qualified social worker with extensive experience in marriage and family therapy, and an M Soc Sci in Social Anthropology for research on black marriage and divorce. She has published and researched on, among other things, marriage and family, informal sector relating to liquor, violence and policing, land and traditional leadership, bioethics, and custom, class and ethnic identity. She retired in 2002 as a Senior Lecturer and Programme Director in Social Anthropology at the then University of Natal, but continues with human rights research and interventionist work, especially in fields of medical rights, customary law and land, as well as criminal justice issues. The KZN Monitor project, started in the 1980s, posts reports at www.violencemonitor.com