South Africa

CRL Rights Commission: Interviews for new commissioners happening behind closed doors

While the the Commission on the Promotion of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities – the CRL Rights Commission – is a Chapter 9 institution that should technically be independent, interviews for new commissioners are being held by the Department of Traditional Affairs in a process that has not been made public.

Musa Zondi, spokesperson for Zweli Mkhize, Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, confirmed to Daily Maverick that interviews for new commissioners would take place on 18 February, but denied that the process lacked transparency and was sidelining Parliament.According to the CRL Act, the selection process is done through a panel appointed by the Minister (not Parliament). It is therefore incorrect to suggest that Parliament is being sidelined,” Zondi told Daily Maverick. Zondi added that the process would take place “in the spirit of the Constitution” and undertook to reveal the names of panel members as well as nominees. Interview invitations have been sent out and are under way but no notices of who is on the interview panel or being interviewed has been made available by COGTA either on its website or any other public platform. While Chapter 9 of The Constitution, Act 108 of 1996, and the CRL Rights Commissions Act, 19 of 2002, clearly states that the Commission is independent and accountable to the National Assembly, there is currently no effective mechanism to ensure the independence of the CRL. This has been a point of contention for some time. The CRL reports to the Portfolio Committee on Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, which is chaired by SANCO president and ANC member, Richard Mdakane. The CRL Rights Commission is currently chaired by Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva and has a budget of R49-million. In August 2018, the Department of Traditional Affairs announced that it had started the process of appointing new commissioners as the term of current commissioners ends on 28 February 2019. New commissioners would then serve for a period of five years. The Commission consists of a chairperson, appointed by the President, and “no fewer than 11 and no more than 17 members”, also appointed by the President. The CRL Commission is aimed at ensuring “equality of cultural, religious and linguistic rights between and among diverse communities, as well as resolve conflict between communities and organs of state or private institutions. This, with an object to foster peace, tolerance, co-existence and harmony between and among diverse communities and the state”. The CRL Act sets out that a selection panel “consisting of persons who command public respect for their fair-mindedness, wisdom and understanding of the issues concerning South African cultural, religious and linguistic communities” be appointed. Members of the Commission are appointed in a part-time capacity while the Chairperson, Deputy Chair and three further members are appointed in a full-time capacity. The CRL Rights Commission has the power to conduct investigations on any matter related to the violation and abuse of cultural, religious and linguistic rights of communities, and was at the centre of the establishment of the national religious summit to investigate the commercialisation of religion. In 2017 the commission submitted a Final Report titled Commercialisation of Religion and Abuse of People's Belief Systems to the committee, recommending the establishment of a national structure to license those who define themselves as a “religious practitioner” or spaces defined as “a place of worship”. The recommendations have, unsurprisingly, been met with widespread criticism with regard to the power the CRL Rights Commission would exercise over religious communities. One of the recommendations is for a Peer Review Committee which would be “an advisory body to the CRL Rights Commission” but that final decisions would lie with the CRL-Rights Commission. Freedom of Religion in South Africa has argued that the proposals in the report would amount to “state control of religion”. Given Parliament’s historic reluctance to increase the CRL’s budget, it is highly unlikely that it will be granted the funds necessary to finance the proposed regulatory structure out of the national fiscus. This leaves the religious community as the only likely source to fund this elaborate structure through payment to the CRL of licence fees that will be required from every religious practitioner and place of worship. This revenue stream is estimated to exceed a billion rand annually,” warned Michael Swain Executive Director, Freedom of Religion South Africa. The crucial role the CRL Rights Commission plays in a country like South Africa which is blessed with diversity, demands that the nomination, interview and appointment process of new commissioners to this crucial Chapter 9 institution be made transparent. DM