NGOs condemn Minister Motsoaledi’s attack on Helen Suzman Foundation
Three features distinguish our country from many other young democracies: first, respect for the Rule of Law; second, a vibrant civil society; and, thirdly and crucially, a fearless judiciary.
This week we saw a glaring instance of executive abuse of all these features. Minister of Home Affairs Aaron Motsoaledi saw fit to lend his name to an attack on civil society organisations – all because a reputable NGO has dared to take a ministerial decision on judicial review.
Without a shred of justification, the minister issued the most outrageous public statement vilifying the Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF), impugning its integrity and patriotism, accusing it of racism and treachery – and in the process gratuitously smeared the NGO community as a whole.
This flood of invective was released because the HSF had applied to court for an order affecting the lives of some 180 000 Zimbabweans lawfully living in South Africa. Essentially HSF asks that the minister reconsider a decision he took some time ago terminating, with effect from the end of this year, a special dispensation whereby people and their families have for more than a decade been allowed to live in South Africa.
The HSF case is not that Zimbabweans are entitled to remain here. It is merely submitting that there was no adequate consultation with interested parties before this radical decision was taken. Therefore, it is argued, the minister should conduct the necessary consultation and then reconsider the issue.
The minister’s threats and innuendos are ominous, but sadly not unprecedented. The apartheid regime shut down or hounded into oblivion countless law-abiding civil society organisations, faith-based organisations and human-rights NGOs. We do not need to relive those days.
It would be wrong for us to express any opinion on the merits of the HSF case, but it is both grossly improper and unconstitutional for the minister to insult, threaten and attempt to intimidate the HSF. In our country, court cases are determined on their merits in duly constituted courts, not by public declarations.
The undersigned representatives of civil society record their rejection of this crude attempt to subvert the Rule of Law. We call on the minister to withdraw his statement and apologise to the Helen Suzman Foundation.