‘We must take racism seriously’: Deputy Public Protector hopeful defends Etzebeth comments

2019-11-12 14:29

Buang Jones’s handling of the case of Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth has taken centre stage in his bid to become the next deputy public protector.

Jones – who is currently the acting head of legal at the South African Human Rights Commission – said that the commission would “make an example of Etzebeth”, who is accused of being involved in an racial incident in Langebaan on the West Coast in August. It is alleged that Etzebeth and a group of men assaulted, pistol-whipped and racially abused four people outside a pub.

Jones was the second candidate to appear before Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services as interviews for the second-in-command spot of the chapter nine institution got under way today.

Jones’s interview followed that of Advocate Shadrack Nkuna, with Advocate Moshoeshoe Jeffrey Toba and Advocate Noxolo Mbangeni still set to undergo the process after lunch. The remaining three candidates, advocates Lwazi Kubukeli, Puleng Matshelo and Kholeka Gcaleka will be interviewed tomorrow.

The candidate who will earn the recommendation from the committee will be notified before Parliament goes to recess at the end of this month and will succeed outgoing deputy public protector Kevin Malunga, whose term ends in early December.

Jones told the committee that his conduct – which had been questioned by the Afrikanerbond – had been found to be proper by two legal opinions (including one by senior counsel Tembeka Ngcukaitobi) and thus he had been “exonerated”.

Jones said he stood by the comment, which he made in a specific context, that the commission would “make an example of Etzebeth”.

“We are different from other chapter 9 institutions in that we can litigate,” Jones said as he recounted the sequence of events.

He said that the comment had been made following a meeting with the Langebaan community. Despite the investigation, the Bok player joined the team in Japan which eventually secured the country’s third Rugby World Cup title.

Jones said the community related a series of incidents involving the lock and his family and friends. He said that they lamented the lack of action from the police.

“We should take incidents of racism seriously, given our history,” he told the committee.

He said that a white resident of Paarl had a similar accusation against the police. He said he had still not heard from after laying a complaint about Etzebeth.

“Ours as the commission is to speak vigorously in favour of the complainant and not respondents.”

The 35-year-old said that his relatively young age should not count against him. He had made the shortlist, meaning that he met the requirements for the job.

MPs did not go easy on him, pressing him hard on his views on the current public protector.

Opting to play it safe, Jones said that Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s work had been commendable but that there were some challenges that need to be attended to, including the high staff turnover rate.

Asked to comment on some scathing comments Malunga had made about his boss, he said that he believed matters should have been handled internally.

Jones was also of the view that deputy public protectors should – if they qualify – succeed the public protector they serve under. He said it had not happened once since 1994 and implied that it was necessary for continuity.

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April 5 2020