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We, civil society organisations in South Africa, express our deep concern at the attacks made in recent days on the state capture commission by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

Such attacks include statements by EFF leader Julius Malema in which he:

  • Described the commission as a “Mickey Mouse show”;
  • Accused its chairperson of stealing money from the poor;
  • Referred to the evidence leader of the commission as “a bastard’;
  • Referred to Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan as “a dog of white monopoly capital”, threatened that there could be “loss of life”, and falsely claimed that Gordhan has a hatred for black people; and
  • Falsely accused Gordhan’s daughter of securing through her father, and benefiting from, government business.

Civil society is the first to recognise that a robust, healthy democracy requires competing views and protest. However, expression and protest action that threatens violence and harm, that looks to flirt with racist and bigoted sentiment and with hate speech can only erode our constitutional democracy, not strengthen it.

Repeated, unsubstantiated claims, in addition to being all of that mentioned above, reveal an agenda that goes beyond criticism of the commission. It smacks of a deliberate attempt to undermine it and the participants who are uncovering the web of state capture and corruption.

Processes of governance, including commissions of enquiry, should not be insulated from considered criticism.  However, the threats contained in the EFF’s utterances not only place those witnesses who have testified before the commission and its officials in harm’s way, but will also have a chilling effect on any potential witnesses who may have information that could assist the commission. This could render the work of the commission meaningless, and help the culprits involved in state capture walk free without being investigated or called to account.

There is understandably great interest in the commission’s proceedings. It has the potential not only to lay bare which parts of our constitutional state have been hollowed out, how this came about and who is responsible but what the cost has been for ordinary South Africans. Its recommendations may be critical to future protection of our democracy and realising the promise of our Constitution for all South Africans. It is clear that the evidence laid before the commission will result in prosecutions, which may explain the level of vitriol against witnesses. Full assessment of whether the commission delivers on this potential can only be made at its conclusion.

In this context, the onslaught by the EFF in the media and outside the venue of the commission, combined with a relentless social media campaign, shows that they are intent on drowning out and forcing a shutdown of the work of the commission. This is an attack on our very democracy, and must be strenuously resisted.

We call on the EFF, if it is in possession of incriminating evidence relating to state capture and corruption, to make a full disclosure and present it to the commission. In the same vein, we urge the commission to use the powers at its disposal to compel persons who claim to have relevant incriminating evidence, to appear before it.

We as a society have sacrificed too much, and our people denied the basic necessities of life for too long, to not insist that the commission’s work is taken to a proper conclusion.

Issued by The Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, Corruption Watch, Freedom Under Law, Helen Suzman Foundation, Johannesburg Against  Injustice And Section 27.