COVID-19 Lockdown and the lack of legislative oversight over the executive in South Africa

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Introduction

South Africans responded by and large positively to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s initial call for a national COVID-19 lockdown. Citizens indicated their preparedness to surrender aspects of their civil rights in the interest of the common good and the compelling necessities of the crisis, recognising the necessity of prioritising the right to life of the many who might be susceptible to the virus.

The recent extension of the lockdown for a further two weeks was met with some concerns. It is feared that it will deepen South Africa’s economic crisis. Others argued that it must end and started to look at how and when.

Rights affected by the national lockdown

The declaration of a national disaster in terms of the  Disaster Management Act 57 of 2002 has affected several of the fundamental human rights enshrined in the South African Constitution. These include the freedom and security of the person, freedom of expression, assembly, movement and residence, trade, occupation and profession, and the rights to education, privacy, and access to information.

The concentration of power in the executive branch

The concentration of all the power in the executive branch of government to deal with and manage the health crisis, without appropriate oversight, should be of concern to ordinary South Africans.  Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch recently wrote of the inherent dangers thereof in an article How Authoritarians Are Exploiting the COVID19 Crisis to Grab Power.

“Recognising that the public is more willing to accept government power grabs in times of crisis, some leaders see the coronavirus as an opportunity not only to censor criticism but also to undermine checks and balances on their power. Much as the “war on terrorism” was used to justify certain long-lasting restrictions on civil liberties, so the fight against the coronavirus threatens longer-term damage to democratic rule.”

Danger signs of the abuse of such concentration of power

Since the announcement of the lockdown, we have seen excesses by the security forces despite the Presidents pleas that they act with constraint, we have seen worrying signs of kragdadigheid from the securocrats in the executive, we have seen Ministers overreaching in terms of what they are planning to do and we have seen how people are treated differently when contravening the lockdown requirements with the starkest of these being a member of the executive only getting a reprimand and a two-month suspension as Minister, whereas ordinary South Africans are summarily arrested when contravening the regulations.

In addition, serious concerns have been expressed initially over aspects of the executive branch’s intention to use location data in the fight against COVID-19.  The government’s changed position on this is clear from the changes between an initial set of directions issued on 26 March and new regulations issued on 2 April and their change of heart can be ascribed to the pressure civil society put on the country’s surveillance regime even before the crisis.

In the initial lockdown rules, Regulation 11E offered wholesale indemnity for police, soldiers and peace officers like metro and traffic police, collectively defined as enforcement officers from any claims for damages or injury arising out of the performance of their duties in terms of the regulations. Just two hours before the lockdown, new regulations withdrew the wholesale indemnity for enforcement officers. This initial provision was made although such indemnity is banned even in a State of Emergency, according to Section 37 of the Constitution and illustrates the dangers inherent in the executive having unfettered powers confirmed upon it without appropriate oversight.

Role of the judiciary in overseeing the executive branch

Professor Balthazar highlights that securocrats need oversight even in the midst of a pandemic but Especially in the midst of the pandemic. He however, argues that in the current situation such oversight is primarily the role of the courts:

“….the temptation of members of the executive to move out of their designated lane during this lockdown is cause for concern and therefore some independent control. For this reason, civil society needs to be vigilant. While the judiciary has, in the two cases brought to date, been wise to defer to executive decisions made to protect the health of the nation, courts will remain the primary mechanism of oversight under the present dispensation.”

Advocate Gary Pienaar in an article on Democratic oversight in the time of the COVID-19 lockdown highlight that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng importantly instructed the courts to stay open during the lockdown, among other reasons so that citizens could challenge the lockdown rules if necessary. The Constitution makes provision for such challenges, even under a state of emergency, which gives the government extraordinary powers, beyond those it now has in terms of the declared state of national disaster.

The judiciary is therefore well placed and able to exercise oversight over the executive. Speedy access to the courts is however beyond the means of most South Africans and will be beholden to civil society organisations and watchdogs to ensure that the courts are approached when necessary to seek appropriate relief.

Oversight by the legislative branch over the executive

What then of oversight by the legislative branch of government? Parliament commenced its scheduled recess and constituency period on 18 March, within three days of the declaration of the national disaster, suspending all sittings until 13 April 2020. This despite the health crisis facing South Africa and the power now concentrated in the executive branch. With the extension of the lockdown by a further two weeks it is not clear what Parliament is planning to do post 13 April 2020.

A media statement issued on Friday 27 March states that Members of Parliament, who are classified under the lockdown Regulations as amongst those performing essential services, will be fulfilling their constitutional responsibilities during this period, in their constituencies in support of efforts against COVID-19. As advocate Gary Pienaar however highlights –

“The statement provided no guidance or direction as to how the members of parliament are to fulfil these constitutional responsibilities, including the duty to scrutinise and oversee executive action, or the duties to facilitate public participation in oversight during a lockdown.”

On Sunday 5 April 2020 Parliament issued another media statement. The statement opiniates that it is the Executive’s responsibility to ensure that it safeguards the rights of individuals during these difficult times and for Parliament to oversee the delivery of services needed to relieve the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on the public. It goes on stating that Parliament must not be seen as interfering with the responsibility of the Executive to implement measures for which the national disaster has been declared.

Oversight during a lockdown can, in terms of the statement, be done through, for example, individual MPs carrying out constituency work in various communities and holding the Executive accountable for implementing measures designed to overcome the state of disaster. The responsibility to conduct oversight is, therefore, not limited to committee meetings.

Other than the aforementioned Parliament sees no need to do more in respect of oversight and in summary, indicates that the Legislator will, after this period, still be able to hold the Executive accountable, in the usual ways, over how it executed the state of national disaster.

Parliament went as far as to deny a request of the Democratic Alliance to establish an oversight committee over the cabinet and state organs during the COVID-19 lockdown. In response to the decision of the Deputy Speaker of Parliament the leader of the opposition stated that Parliament has been rendered obsolete by refusing to adapt to the changing government during this time and the changing circumstances surrounding its work.

In comparison, the Speaker of the Western Cape Parliament announced his intention to establish an ad hoc committee to conduct oversight over the Western Cape Government’s response to COVID-19, which announcement has been welcomed.

International experience in oversight over the executive during the COVID-19 crisis

According to the 5 April media statement of Parliament parliaments all over the world are grappling with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on their constitutional obligations, such as oversight, lawmaking and public involvement. The question should be asked whether the South African Parliament have then considered any of the international experience in oversight over the executive during the pandemic?

Ittai Bar-Siman-Tov conducted a comparative survey in March 2020 on Parliamentary Activity and Legislative Oversight during the Coronavirus Pandemic. He highlights that the serious challenges the virus poses for legislatures in many countries around the world are twofold. First, the Coronavirus, and the measures taken to contain its spread, makes it difficult for parliaments to operate given the size of most legislators and the fact that the standing orders mostly require members to be physically present at sittings.

The second challenge is that governments in many countries have treated the situation as an emergency (either in practice or also formally declaring a national state of emergency). He warns that during states of emergency, executives want to accumulate power, centralize authority and be as effective, swift and expedient as possible. They tend to want to circumvent the legislatures’ cumbersome legislative process and evade parliamentary scrutiny.

“The Coronavirus crisis is no different, as many heads of the executive branch around the world declared “war” on the invisible Coronavirus enemy. Consequently, many governments have reacted by adopting far-reaching restrictive measures to combat the spread of the Coronavirus. These measures often infringe on a host of fundamental human rights (such as liberty, freedom of movement, freedom of assembly, freedom of occupation, and privacy) and raise rule-of-law qualms. These measures are mostly adopted through executive orders, governmental decrees, emergency regulations and so forth – all being legal norms that are made by the executive branch, bypassing the traditional legislative process by parliaments. This raises crucial questions about the power of the executive and the role of the legislative branch in overseeing this power. It raises vital questions to the wellbeing of democracy itself during the Coronavirus crisis.”

What were the main findings of his comparative survey which covered 26 countries? These can be summarised as follows:

  • In all the surveyed countries it was taken for granted that the government cannot shut down parliament or determine its mode of operation. It was agreed that it was up to the parliament to determine its operation during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • The majority of responses received was that parliament must continue to operate throughout the Coronavirus crisis. Indeed, most surveyed parliaments (22 out of 26) continue to operate.
  • This is true even for Italy – the country that has so far been most ravaged by the Coronavirus, and whose death toll surpassed the death toll in China.
  • This is also true despite the fact that in several of these parliaments, such as in France, the UK and the US, several MPs and ministers have been diagnosed with the coronavirus).
  • In the four exceptions to the general trend, even in parliaments that closed their session or suspended their activity, this has always been a decision made the parliament (rather than the executive), and usually at least some legislative oversight was maintained. For example, in Lithuania, Parliament has closed until April 7, but plenary meetings and committees on urgent issues are held; and in Slovenia parliamentary activity was generally deferred, but the National Assembly will hold meetings about exceptional cases.
  • Of the legislatures that continue to operate, there appear to be two models: some legislatures (such as in the US, UK, and South Korea) continue as usual with their regular mode of operation; whereas others have modified their operation with such modification becoming more common even in some of the parliaments who have made no changes to date.
  • One of the common modifications includes a reduced number of meetings and changes to the parliamentary agenda, focusing on the Coronavirus and other necessary and urgent issues, while postponing less immediate issues.
  • Another common modification is finding various means to limit the number of MPs attending a sitting while maintaining the minimal quorum rules and keeping the proportional representation according to the relative size of the parties.
  • Additional modifications include videoconferencing and other technological solutions to avoid or minimize physical presence (albeit in some parliaments this is still considered problematic given quorum rules that require a physical presence).

Conclusion

Given the international experience, the critical importance of the legislative branch exercising oversight over the concentration of power in the executive during the COVID-19 pandemic and the danger signs already seen locally of the possible abuse of such power; serious and critical questions must be asked of the lack of action by the South African Parliament and our elected representatives to date to ensure real and effective oversight.

In her recent article Now is not the time to suspend parliamentary oversight Samantha Waterhouse asks pertinent questions following the 5 April media statement of Parliament. These include on what basis will the legislature call the executive into account during the period, there may be many opinions on what’s reasonable during a crisis situation so what should the limits be on executive decision-making, what the requirements for seeking legislative go-ahead should be beforehand, or reporting on decisions taken after, during the disaster period?

She rightfully concludes that the work of the past two decades to promote an accessible, strong and independent legislature must be increased, not relaxed at this time. The question remains if the South African Parliament will be equal to the tasks and if our elected representatives will stand up for us the ordinary citizens, to keep in check the extraordinary powers accumulated in the executive in this moment of crisis. Only time will tell.

Postscript

This article dealt mainly with oversight by the legislative and judiciary branches of government over the executive in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The media and civil society similarly have a key role to play in this regard and their efforts should be welcomed and supported. Given the role of the media, two recent incidents are of concern – the media being barred from entering a courtroom in a COVID-19 related case and a journalist being shot at when covering police action and subsequently being mocked when reporting the incident.

The following are additional links that will be useful in considering the topic of this article:

The rule of law in times of crisis: COVID-19 and the state of disaster 

Ensuring citizen oversight in Kenya during the COVID-19 pandemic 

What does a COVID-19 national state of disaster mean for rights? 

Ipid investigates 21 complaints of murder, rape and assault against cops during the lockdown 

Concerning lack of parliamentary oversight – DA 

COVID-19: Contact Parliamentary Committees and MPs about government’s actions and response

Opinion: Fear and policing in the time of COVID-19

Security forces are waging war on our constitutional democracy

 

 

A case of Aggravated Assault & the State of our Nation (Part 2 in the series – Verwoerd, Malan & a Case of Aggravated Assault)

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This is the second of three posts detailing incidents within two weeks, which had a dramatic impact on my life. Part 1 was about the book “The Lost Boys of Bird Island” and a chapter in it that brings the credibility of one of the book’s authors, Mark Minnie, into question.

Verwoerd, Malan & a case of Aggravated Assault – Part 1 (Malan & the Boys of Bird Island)

In Part 2 I write about a case of aggravated assault on people dear to me and what it says about South Africa as nation still having to fully make peace with itself.

In the very early hours of Wednesday 15 August 2018, I received a call from the daughter of my Stepmother (70 years old), who lives next to them in an apartment in Port Edward, together with my Dad (76 years old). “Oupa and Ouma were attacked, and it does not look good, there is blood everywhere. We are waiting for the ambulance”. We rushed from Durban to Port Shepstone Hospital where I found my dad lying on a stretcher covered in blood. My Stepmother was still in Port Edward waiting for a transfer to Port Shepstone.

It turned out that they were attacked and severely assaulted for two hours by two youngers who barely stole anything of worth. My Dad’s skull was cracked after a severe beating with a rock, his jaw broken in two places, and he suffered a number of stabbed wounds. My Stepmother was similarly assaulted and traumatized.

Immediately following the event I wrote on Facebook that I never thought I would say this, but I hate this country at the Southern tip of Africa with a passion so strong that it scares me. I followed it up the next morning with the following post, wherein I tried to explain my feelings in more detail:

I’m a mess of emotions. After yesterday’s events, I woke up this morning and realized how much healing our country still needs. First of all, it struck me that almost two years ago to the date, my wife was assaulted outside of SARS in Pinetown, by two criminals. I remembered how my laatlammetjie bravely jumped on the back of one of the perpetrators and with her little female hands beaten him off my wife and how I found my wife bleeding in Pinetown’s streets in shock. An event that I have almost forgotten about, but which were pushed back in my consciousness by the shock of yesterday.

BREAKING: Grandmother viciously attacked outside Pinetown SARS

Then I think back to yesterday’s events and ask “God why my elderly father and stepmother? Surely they don’t deserve this?” My stepmother who used to operate a Black private school in Port St Johns until recently, mostly at a loss and using her own meager funding because of her love for children. How she was hurt by two youngsters, who are not much older than those that she now teaches at a different school. A brave Afrikaner woman who, in spite of what happened to her just yesterday, wanted to go back to the school to teach again today, because she did not want to let her mainly Black scholars down.

Then my thoughts drifted to those who so often claim that it’s us older Afrikaners fault that our children behave in an unbecoming manner, as children are not born with any inborn prejudices. I read my children’s and the daughter of my late sister’s heartbreaking messages (see postscripts 1, 2 and 3 for these messages) about their grandfather and yesterday’s events and ask myself, what then do I tell my children about some people who have no respect for human life and dignity? How do I convince them to still stay put and assist to make South Africa work? Then I realize this is a deeply personal matter that political and other social studies professors and analyst can analyze at wit’s end, but that its something that they do not know or understand anything about.

Then my mind jumped to my perhaps unjustified comment on Christi van der Westhuizen’s Facebook post yesterday. It was by coincidence the 1st post on my Facebook timeline that I read just after I saw my Dad bleeding and in shock, in the Port Shepstone hospital. I saw the pain and bitterness in his eyes and her “wink wink” I’m going to talk to my favorite Eusebius McKaiser on the radio this morning about white privilege, was in that moment just too much for me to handle.

Then I think of my earlier interaction with Christi about the Magnus Malan saga and how we all pursue the truth, but from different perspectives. She from a perspective that Apartheid was only evil and bad, me from a perspective that I do understand to an extent why my father and dear late mother supported the NP government at that time, namely the Afrikaner’s quest for a place they could call home and in the light of their parents and grandparents’ trans-generational trauma experienced as a result of the Anglo-Boer war.

Then I think of her wake-up call to me when she said Riaan, but PW Botha, personally called for the police file of the Bird Island case and destroyed the dossier! But just the next day I read that according to policeman Minnie’s then commander, the dossier was only about his investigation of Allen and his ties with Wiley, and then I wonder aloud, but why does the book make it out as if Magnus Malan and another unnamed previous Minister were also under investigation?

But then my thoughts go to the Minnie family and what sorrow and sadness they must experience at this moment after his apparent suicide, compared to my family where loved ones got hurt, but thank God they still live. May they find peace and answers by God’s grace in this difficult time.

Then in my further search for the truth about the Malan case, I came across a contribution from Leopold Scholtz. In it, he writes that emotion is good, but only to a point and that yes, the past must be seen through the glasses of emotion, but always in equilibrium with rationality. Then I wonder whether analysts like Christi are not so overcome by emotions when viewing our troubled past, that they sometimes lose perspective?

Then I came across an article in News24 early this morning, in which Christi correctly explains the context in which the allegations that Magnus Malan is accused of in the book, took place. I read it and realize that we all seek the truth but still judge the past from our own context and perspective. She who sees the 1980s and the dark period in our history from the perspective of that the security forces during this period was only evil. Compared with me, and what I had experienced, given my work in townships at the time, which makes me want to shout out, hokaai Christi – the ANC was not always the angels during this period, their People’s War destroyed the lives of many ordinary black families. And then I wonder if she and my perspectives about the same period of our history could ever be reconciled?

But then luckily I came across another article this morning wherein the former coloured politician Peter Marais, urges that “The Afrikaner has to leave his nonsense.” He writes about what he promised his mother on her deathbed namely “You can fight against injustice, but you do not fight the Boers because your grandfather was a Boer.” The article once again made me realize how interwoven our past and shared history are, black, brown and white. His words leave me with the hope that one-day emotion and rationality will come into full equilibrium and that we will then be able as South Africans to take hands on the path of healing and reconciliation.

(See my previous post that also dealt with our shared history and how it should unite us as a nation – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s Death: Time to Rediscover our Common History )

Dad and Tannie, I love you very much and sorry about the hurt and pain of yesterday. Thank you very much for your contribution to our country’s well-being and future for almost 70 years, we will never forget it.”

The whole incident made me reflect deeply on the state of our nation. I’m still very very angry at what happened, and it will take a long time for things to return to normal. My Dad and Stepmother is on the way to recovery but still severely traumatized. Luckily some of those involved has been caught and will stand trial for their evil deeds. One of the main perpetrators is however still on the loose but will hopefully be arrested soon.

The incident also made me think about how crime is viewed and reported in South Africa. A case of criminality like the assault and kidnapping of a man and the act of trying to shove him into a coffin is immediately condemned as a racists incident that receives endless newspaper coverage and condemnation by all. Aggravated assaults on defenseless old people like what happened to my family, and which happens to many other victims of crime on a daily basis, barely register any mention in the mainstream or social media. I can’t but wonder what agendas are at play in the way crime is reported upon in South Africa and how some incidents are immediately seen as having racist undertones, while others with many similarities are not.

I wanted to write some more about the scourge of farm murders after having read Ernst Roet’s book, Kill the Boer. The attack on my Dad took place not on a farm but on the outskirts of Port Edward and in an area surrounded by smallholdings. I decided not to do so in this post, lest I be called out for promoting the notion of a white genocide, when all I would, in fact, have asked for is that the government and police declare farm murders and attacks a priority crime, given the high prevalence thereof.

Below is the few local newspaper reports that covered the incident involving my Dad and Stepmother:

JUST IN: Knife attack leaves Port Edward couple traumatised

Four arrested for attack on Port Edward pensioners

UPDATE: Men arrested for Port Edward pensioner attack to apply for bail

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Postscript 1: My eldest daughters Facebook post – “When will SA say ENOUGH is ENOUGH???

During ‘women’s month,’ as well as four days after my grandfather’s 76th birthday, he and his wife were subjected to a brutal and unwarranted attack by two cowardly thugs in Port Edward.

At 3.30am, these two cowards entered a fully-fenced complex, targeted my granddad and tannie (70) and thought it wise to brutally assault two old, defenseless elderly people. My grandfather, who cooperated every step of the way, was stabbed twice, his jaw broken and skull fractured. He is too old to fight back…these cowards only wanted to take his pride from him, nothing else. Tannie, who has dedicated her life to teaching poor, rural children, who will give you the last shirt off her back, also fell victim to these menaces, despite doing exactly as she was told.

When I arrived at the Port Shepstone state hospital, where my granddad was laying in a bed drenched in blood, my heart sank. We arrived in time for morning prayer. A short, black woman walks over to myself and Brendan: ‘Don’t cry dears, he’s in good hands.’ I wish I got her name; I want to thank her personally. Her words comforted me.

Moments later, a nurse puts an open needle on the dirty table. Oupa asks me to lift the backrest of the bed, but I can’t, it’s broken. I then ask for a pillow…’We don’t have pillows here.’

A male nurse walks over…he first sticks a syringe with a clean needle in Oupa; then, I hear my mother’s voice in my head. ‘Don’t you dare put that dirty needle in him,’ I find myself saying.

Poor Oupa was drenched in blood. So I asked for a wet cloth to clean him a little.

As I wiped the blood from his hands, I already said to myself ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! BLEED MY BELOVED COUNTRY, but I will never bleed for you again.

Our government is failing us…not white, black, coloured or Indian, IT IS FAILING ALL OFF US! It protects the rich, the corrupt, the murderers, the thieves, the kidnappers, and rapists. But it fails its vulnerable; women, children, the elderly and frail.

So dear SA, my beloved, beautiful country, when the rubbish of this country is done taking, and when there is nothing or no-one left to take from, remember the day I wrote this…asking you: WHEN WILL ENOUGH BE ENOUGH?!

Hours later, we’re told Oupa has to go for facial reconstructive surgery in Durban, but he will be kept overnight for observation. Two, frail, old people’s lives have been turned upside down because two good-for-nothing cowards wanted a little power trip.

Now, IS THERE ANY COUNTRY OUT THERE THAT HAS SPACE FOR 2 hardworking individuals who would love to give their daughter a fighting chance at a better future?

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH…

I can still smell his blood, even after washing my hands and having a shower. I hope I smell it until I leave, so it serves as a constant reminder of why I left SA…Bleed my beloved country.”

Postscript 2: My youngest daughters Facebook post – “I don’t even have words for what two disgusting savages have done to my amazing grandparents.  May your guilt catch up to you and eat you alive. To my family, I love you all.”

Postscript 3: The daughter of my sister’s Facebook post – “I am trying to use my words wisely, I am trying to say what I want to say without prejudice, but I am finding it very difficult, I am so angry, I am so full of hate! How does one human being do this horrible thing to another? What type of person must you be? How could these two barbaric monsters do what they did to two elderly, defenseless, good-hearted people? How do they brutally attack for hours on end and not feel a thing? How am I not supposed to feel hate and anger, how am I supposed to stay true this country that I love, how am I supposed to love and accept. People who know me, know that I have no problems with people of other religions, race, creed ( all this bullshit) that divides us. I think there is a little place under the sun for each of us to live in harmony. But today, today I cannot. My grandfather and his girlfriend were attacked and beaten and tortured by two monsters in the early hours of this morning, and for what? There wasn’t really anything of worth to steal. They went there to inflict pain and suffering. I do not want to share my world with monsters like these. And most importantly I do not want my children exposed to this sickness. Angry and hate are actually not strong enough words for what I feel. I am scaring myself because I am feeling vengeful, I wish I could hurt this low life’s like they hurt my grandparents. I am sad that it has come to this. Cry the beloved country.”

Adam Catzavelos, Racism and Prevailing Double Standards

A matter that received a lot of attention this past week and rightly so, was that of Adam Catzavelos and his now infamous video below in which he used the k-word.

Almost at the same time, the news broke of another incident in which a member of the ANCYL, Suzanne Govender, used the k-word in a WhatsApp message. Here is a link to the Govender story breaking:

KZN ANCYL executive in hot water over ‘racist k-word’ outburst

Both incidents in essence are the same as both used the k-word via WhatsApp. Adam Catzavelos posted his video as I understand on WhatsApp, whereas Suzanne Govender had a discussion on WhatsApp as per the screenshot below:

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I believe that both of them are idiots for what they have said but as a firm believer in freedom of speech, I believe in their right to make idiots of themselves in public rather than trying to suppress their thoughts and views as racists as it may be. Suppressing racists and their views via legislation in my view is just going to drive such behaviour underground and will serve no public good.

As soon as both the Catzavelos and Govender incidents broke I decided to track how many media articles and mentions each incident received via a simple Google search and the result is reflected in the chart below which speaks for itself. Whilst the Adam incident quickly gained traction and grew from 0 to 22 300 articles or mentions in no time and are still trending upwards, the Govender incident has barely registered as a blip on the mainstream media radar and are trending to nowhere with only 143 articles/mentions by 18h00 on the evening of 24 August 2018.

Adam

I also analyzed as many of the articles on both incidents as I could and identified 44 direct consequences for Adam Catzavelos, some of which has dire consequences for him such as losing his job, being investigated by the the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) at their own volition, a radical political party visiting his residence and threats being made against him. For Suzanne Govender I could only identify 9 such direct consequences, the worst of which is that she lost her party political position on an executive committee (not sure if this was her full time employment) and a possible further investigation against her by the SAHRC, that’s if they decided to take the matter further.

I will summarize my findings of the analysis undertaken below (disclaimer – it was a rapid analysis and if I missed something and therefore what I state below is not factual please let me know and I will gladly correct same):

  1. Calls were made to boycott the family business that Adam used to work for and some of their existing clients took their business elsewhere.
  2. Both incidents were condemned but with the Adam incident, receiving much much wider public condemnation. Even Afriforum condemned Adam for his use of the k-word.
  3. Govender denied having used the k-word whereas Catzavelos, in the end, admitted ‘guilt’ and made a public apology for his actions. His apology was however not accepted well on social media.
  4. Major organizations such as Nedbank, 702 and Nike distanced themselves from Catzavelos whereas in the instance of Govender only her ward committee and the local ANCYL did so.
  5. Other political parties such as the EFF and the DA got involved in the Catzavelos incident but none in the case of Govender other than the ANCYL of which she is a member.
  6. The EFF visited the house of Catzavelos but not so for Govender.
  7. In both instances, a case was opened with the SAPS. In the Catzavelos instance, the EFF laid a charge and in the Govender matter the local ANCYL. The EFF gave the police a deadline within which to arrest Adam.
  8. Fun was poked at Catzavelos on social media and a campaign launched,  #AdamCatzavelosChallenge. I could pick up no such campaign against Govender.
  9. Catzavelos family released a statement condemning his actions. No word as yet from the family of Govender.
  10. In Catzavelos instance, the government released an official statement, none in the case of Govender.
  11. In the Adam incident, calls were made to criminalize racism and experts provided a number of opinions on the likelihood of him being successfully prosecuted. No such opinions on what Suzanne did.
  12. In the Adam incident, calls were made for all to say no to racism and to acknowledge that we are all to blame.
  13. In the Adam incident, the SAHRC decided to investigate the matter out of their own violation, although the DA and others subsequently also reported the matter to them. In the Suzanne incident, the ANCYL in her ward reported the matter to the SAHRC but its not sure whether they will take the matter further.
  14. The private school where Adam’s children are enrolled banned him from their premises. Rapper AKA congratulated the school.
  15. Various other SA celebrities condemned Catzavelos, none did so in relation to Govender.
  16. In the Adam instance, social media went berserk and the matter soon trended on SA Twitter.
  17. Twitter was used as a medium to track down Adam and his personal details were made public on social media (the personal details of Govender is not known).
  18. No such social media explosion happened in response to the Suzanne incident.
  19. In the Catzavelos incident, threats were made against him and the family business and some Nike stores closed for a short while out of fear for the safety of their staff.
  20. Adam Catzavelos wife and her employer Nike were also drawn into the incident. We don’t know if Suzanne Govender is married and if so who her partner works for.
  21. Catzavelos was fired from the family business and Govender resigned as a member of the ANCYL Exco in Ethekwini (but only after she faced a suspension and disciplinary hearing). It’s not clear whether she has any other formal employment.

From the aforementioned, the double standards at play should be clear and evident to all. I wrote a blog piece about this prevailing double standards earlier (see link below):

The Spur Incident versus that of the Pregnant Women (and yes also that of Ashwin Willemse)

The same double standards were pointed out in a report compiled by the Solidarity Research Institute in 2017 (see the following links for more information):

It looks to me like the race of the ‘perpetrator’ plays a major role in how the mainstream media, social media, political parties, the SAHRC, public analyst, radio talk show hosts and the government treats instances of racism. It’s high time that all of them be called out for this in the interest of balance and fair and equal treatment in front of the law and the court of public opinion.

Unlike in my previous blog posts highlighting double standards, I will this time around try and get comment from the parties listed above but don’t hold your breath.

The Spur Incident versus that of the Pregnant Women (and yes also that of Ashwin Willemse)

On the morning of 8 May 2018 I shared the meme below on a Facebook Group highlighting how the media reacted to the Spur incident in 2017, compared to the recent assault on a pregnant woman. Granted, the meme is an over simplification of both incidents but nevertheless brings home an important issue in the current South African context and that is the double standard evident in how our media are reporting on incidents like these.

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For those that don’t know what happened in the Pregnant Women incident, see the video below:

Many disagreed with the meme and I therefore decided to do a little experiment to demonstrate how the SA media reports on incidents like these. I did a Google search for the “Spur racial incident or attack” and for “pregnant women assault Featherbrooke village” (I included the Featherbrooke village part so that I don’t get search results for pregnant women assaults in general) and I then noted the number of results found in Google.

Disclaimer – I fully realize that such an approach is not perfect as it depends on the exact search terms used, the location parameters set and the date ranges etc. The idea however was not to undertake scientific research but to get a general idea of what was reported and the frequency thereof. I tried to be as consistent as possible when doing the searches so as to use the same parameters for both incidents, however when I subsequently repeated the searches, I sometimes got differing results, but even when looking at these differences the disproportionate reporting between the two incidents was still clearly evident.

I first did a search for the “Spur racial incident or attack” and Google returned 306 000 results. I then did a search for “pregnant women assault Featherbrooke village” and only 9 030 results popped up.

Some people rightly pointed out on Facebook that the incident with the pregnant women only happened recently so it’s unfair to compare its total news coverage with that of the Spur incident that happened in 2017. So, to even the playing field I tried the following – The Spur incident happened on the 19 March 2017 and hit the news on 21 March 2017. So, I did two Google searches, one for the period 21/22 March 2017 and found 103 results on the Spur incident for the said two days and for the period of 21 – 28 March 2017 I found 180 results for the seven-day period.

The pregnant women assault incident happened on 25 April 2018 but only hit the news on 1 May 2018. So, I again did two Google searches one for the period 1/2 May 2018, and found only 4 results on the pregnant women assault incident for the said two days and for the period of 1 to 8 May 2018 I found only 50 results for the seven-day period. The Spur incident within 2 days garnered 25 times more news coverage than the pregnant women incident and nearly 4 times as much coverage over a period of one week.

I did a few further searches thereafter for both incidents for a period longer than just one week and up to one month after each incident, and it was clear that whereas the Spur incident exploded in terms of its media coverage (picking up to over 3 000 search results), the reporting on the pregnant women incident barely registered any increased coverage staying around +/- 100 search results.

Glaring also was the absence of reporting (at least until the morning 9 May 2018) of the pregnant women incident in some of our media and comparing how many times other media houses reported on both incidents. I found 8 160 results when I checked how many times the Daily Maverick either reported on the Spur incident or was quoted for reporting on it but no results for the Daily Maverick for the pregnant women incident by the 9th. Similarly, I found 15 500 results for News24 for the Spur incident but only 459 such results for the pregnant women assault. I found 32 000 results for the Spur incident referencing City Press but none such for the pregnant women incident. For the Huffington Post I found a staggering 60 900 results for the Spur incident when I checked how many times the Huffington Post either reported on the Spur incident or was quoted for reporting on it, but only 1 for the pregnant women assault to date and that’s when cartoonist Jerm commented on the matter on his Facebook page somehow referencing the Huffington Post.

When one compares the headlines used when reporting the two incidents some glaring differences also comes to the fore. For the Spur incident – “Spur Racial Attack (EWN)”, Spur bowed to racist pressure (Huffington Post)”, “Spur Group probing racism claim (IOL)”, “Spur blamed for condoning racism (The South African)”, “How a right wing boycott has lost Spur Millions (Daily Maverick)”, “What the Spur boycott has taught black women (Women24)”, “Spur apologizes to SA for racial spat”, “Spur people – with a taste for white male violence (The Daily Vox)” etc. Compare that to the language used when reporting on the pregnant women incident – “CEO suspended after assaulting pregnant women (Times Live)”, “Man opens case of crimen injuria against assaulted pregnant women (Citizen)” with most other media articles following more or less the same headlines. It’s easy to spot the differences in the way the two incidents were reported in the media.

Lastly, I looked at how the two incidents were reported upon from a race perspective in the leading paragraphs of such news articles. From the Mail and Guardian (22 March 2017) reporting on the Spur incident – “Footage of a white man threatening a black woman at Spur’s branch in the Glen shopping mall has gone viral this week and has been greeted with outrage across the country.” versus the first paragraph from the Times Live (8 May 2018) “A man caught on CCTV footage assaulting a pregnant woman at Featherbrooke Village Mall in Ruimsig west of Johannesburg has been suspended as chief executive officer of Novare Consultants with immediate effect.” Note how for the one incident the race of both the alleged perpetrator and victim is clearly highlighted, whereas for the second incident not a word about the race of either the alleged perpetrator or victim. I found this to be the overall general trend in how these two incidents were reported in the media.

Renaldo Gouws in a video on his YouTube channel (copied below) asked the same questions and why people are hardly aware of the pregnant women incident and why there was no major outrage –

The above results although not scientific, raises serious questions as to the motives of the media when reporting on incidents involving different race groups. Why the double standards and lack of equal treatment?

The same double standards were pointed out in a report compiled by the Solidarity Research Institute in 2017 (see the following links for more information):

In conclusion I wonder what the results would be, if somebody better equipped than me, do a similar comparison of the coverage of the two incidents on social media and the language used in these interactions?

Postscript – As I was writing this post the Ashwim Willemse incident where he walked out of the Supersport studio made main headlines news. For those that’s not familiar with what happened see the following video wherein Renaldo Gouws gives his own views on the incident  –

Just for interest sake I did a Google search on “Ashwin Willemse Supersport Mallet” limited to 19/20 May 2018 and was startled to find 3 090 results. So an incident where a women is assaulted only resulted in 4 Google search results in two days, compared to 3 090 results for an incident in which nobody was assaulted?