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Complaint on Parliamentary interference in the Commission for Gender Equality

- Lee-Anne Bruce

CALS has filed a complaint with the Speaker of the National Assembly on behalf of a commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality

[UPDATE: On 29 September, CALS received confirmation that the complaint had been referred to the House Chairperson for investigation] 

The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) represents Mx Busisiwe Deyi, a part-time commissioner at the Commission for Gender Equality. On 25 August 2021, CALS submitted a complaint on Mx Deyi’s behalf to the Speaker of the National Assembly against the Portfolio Committee on Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities. The complaint relates to the Portfolio Committee’s interference with the independence and/or independent functioning of the Commission for Gender Equality.

The Commission for Gender Equality is a Chapter Nine Institution established by the Constitution as an independent body to promote gender equality and to monitor, investigate and report on issues concerning gender equality. While Chapter Nine Institutions are required to report on their activities to Parliament, no organ of state is permitted to interfere with the functions of these Institutions and must instead ensure they remain impartial and perform their constitutional duties without fear, favour or prejudice.

The complaint instead outlines a number of instances where the Portfolio Committee has interfered with the functions of the Commission, including in the appointment of staff and in the Commission’s processes for handling complaints and reports. Over the last year, the Portfolio Committee has, for example, instructed the Commission not to appoint provincial and senior managers until the Portfolio Committee had approved the process, demanded the Commission review decisions on whether to investigate individual complaints and even warned the Commission against releasing a report it had not yet finalised. 

Our client has become concerned that the hiring and complaints processes of the Commission have become subject to the control, review and approval of the Portfolio Committee, and in particular its Chairperson. This is a significant overreach of their mandate and threatens the Commission’s independence. Interference in the administrative duties of the Commission is not only concerning, but unconstitutional. The complaint submitted by CALS on behalf of Mx Deyi therefore calls on the Speaker of the National Assembly intervene and introduce policies that regulate the relationship between the Commission and the Portfolio Committee.

“It is significant that this complaint is being made during Women’s Month,” says Thandeka Kathi, attorney at CALS. “We need functioning systems for dealing with issues like gender-based violence and other markers of gender inequality. We know that the processes in place often fail the very people they are meant to protect, so we need to have somewhere to turn when this system lets us down. It is essential that the Commission for Gender Equality remains independent and can perform its function and promote structural change without fear or favour.”

Find the complaint here

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