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The CRL Commission gives in

The fight against the scandalous practices at Mission KwaSizabantu (KSB) is entering a new round, but first it took a diversion. The battle between the abuse victims and KSB turned into a duel with a South African constitutional body, the CRL Commission. After all, after five people from the circle of witnesses against KSB filed a so-called “mandamus application” with the High Court of the Gauteng Province to force the Commission to release its report on the investigations into the countless allegations against Mission KwaSizabantu within ten days, the Commission has now relented. The action of the witnesses has obviously put the CRL under some pressure even before the court had properly dealt with the matter. On 4 July, it announced that it would publish the report on the investigations on 13 July.

In doing so, the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities avoids what could be an embarrassing setback: how would a constitutional body look to the public if it had to be forced to act by a court? It would have been, after the already lousy performance of the body so far, further proof of its lack of zeal for work and its obvious incompetence.

Incidentally, these characteristics of the CRL were already apparent from the beginning of the proceedings. When in September 2020 the news platform News24 began a series on the scandalous conditions at Mission KwaSizabantu and there was a great response, no one had to call the Commission – it was quickly on the scene. In the midst of the Corona epidemic, it heard witnesses to the incidents described on News24 and even clashed with representatives of KwaSizabantu because they called them biased. Tears were shed by the witnesses, the whole of South Africa took part in the heartbreaking accounts of KSB victims, it was an exciting few days with many journalists and TV cameras in Durban. But after that, the momentum of the investigations noticeably slowed down. In particular, CRL Chairperson Prof. David Mosoma and his Communications Officer Mpiyakhe Mkholo failed to get anything done.

You could have guessed it: anyone who has ever browsed through the CRL website no longer has any illusions that anything useful will ever come out of the work of this body. The Commission’s behaviour in the KwaSizabantu case was as negligent, bumbling and sleepy as its website. There were a few hearings via video transmission, which were all the more listless for it, but the testimonies of numerous witnesses to the abuse at KSB were not taken. While the witnesses of abuse had to testify publicly, the controversial head of mission, Lidia Dube, was allowed to comment on the allegations in private behind closed doors.

Mosoma and Mkholo did a great job of misleading the public. Questioners received almost no reply to letters or mails, the public was misled and put off by Mkholo time and again with false information about the publication date of the report. The wait for a final report of the panel on the KSB scandal lasted well over two years. The Chapter 9 institution, the constitutional body charged with the duty to protect the fundamental rights of all South Africans without fear or prejudice, presented a picture of misery during the proceedings.

But suddenly, in April of this year (2023), representatives of both sides – witnesses to the abuse as well as the mission – received, as if out of the blue, a draft report and a date: 5 May! However, anyone who thought that there would be movement in the matter was once again deceived. Mosoma and Mkholo let their own deadline slip, allegedly because lawyers for those questioned in the matter had asked for more time to comment on the draft report.

The request by a group of witnesses to the serial abuse in KSB to submit the final report within ten days, otherwise they would file a mandamus application, came to nothing. Once again, the CRL panel confirmed the impression of being overwhelmed with the KwaSizabantu case. Mosoma and Mkholo once again closed themselves off, there were no answers to journalists’ questions, no new appointment, nothing.

Now, however, the much-awaited day is approaching after all. However, no one should deceive themselves: the fact that the report is now being released to the public does not mean that it will be of the quality in terms of content, intellect or form that one might normally expect from a constitutional body. The experience-based mistrust of the CRL Commission does not allow for optimism.