Newsmaker – Fighter Pansy Tlakula talks tough on elections

2014-05-05 08:00

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Pansy Tlakula hasn’t slept much in the past few months.

But she’s not lying awake worrying about the Public Protector, Parliament or court battles – although those matters have taken up many of her waking hours.

Instead, the chairperson of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has cut back on her average of six hours’ sleep a night because preparing for a national and provincial election requires extra hours in the day.

“In the run-up to the elections I only sleep about four hours. From voting day until the announcement of results, it can easily be two hours at most,” said Tlakula.

Last week she launched the IEC’s national results centre in Pretoria with President Jacob Zuma and spent her days with other IEC staff making sure it’s all systems go for Wednesday’s polls.

Then she would spend hours, late into the night, drafting court papers to defend herself before the electoral court on Friday.

Tlakula (57), a married mother of two daughters, was the IEC’s chief executive for a decade before becoming chairperson two years ago.

She rather euphemistically says that the last few months have been “difficult” for her – which will come as no surprise after months of bruising allegations and a damning report by Public Protector Thuli Madonsela into alleged misconduct related to a R320 million lease deal.

Tlakula’s independence, opposition parties argued on Friday in the electoral court, has been compromised by her involvement in business with a senior member of the governing party, ANC MP Thaba Mufamadi.

In the affidavit she filed in her own defence, Tlakula acknowledged that she deviated from tender processes but claimed this was an “honest mistake”.

She says her “impeccable” record as both CEO and chairperson should be enough to prove that she’s not aligned to any political party.

She’s not afraid to take on her colleagues at the commission – rumours abound of splits between the commissioners – as is evidenced by a 2009 incident that many may have forgotten.

Tlakula, CEO at the time, challenged then chairperson Brigalia Bam and other commissioners in the electoral court over the eligibility of a candidate to stand in that year’s national elections.

It was an unprecedented case which she won, but some within the commission were unhappy with the challenge.

“Each work situation has its own challenges but I would not necessarily say that I had ‘run-ins’ with commissioners,” she says today.

“I took an unprecedented decision to take my commissioners to court on a case relating to whether a particular candidate in the 2009 elections was qualified to stand or not and I won. So my tenure as chairperson has been eventful.

“But I’ve had fulfilling and exciting years characterised by hard work. It’s a privilege and honour to be part of a team of hard working and committed colleagues who put a high premium on professionalism and efficiency.”

Her job is safe for now after the electoral court postponed its enquiry into her conduct until after the elections.

So what will she do when her time with the IEC ends – whether by choice or force?

“Human rights remain my first love and I hope to continue with this. Very few people in my generation could escape involvement in politics prior to 1994. So although I was not an activist as such, I always took part in protest action as a student.”

She is also a commissioner in the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information.

She travels frequently on the continent and describes her work in the DRC’s 2006 elections as one of her professional highlights.

But Tlakula isn’t really thinking about much beyond Wednesday. Planning an election, she says, takes a lot of time.

“The work of the IEC is continuous. It takes more than a year to prepare for an election. Preparations begin with the identification of policy issues that will form the basis for possible amendment of the electoral laws and regulations.

“In recent times we have had a lot of by-elections, objections and court cases emanating from by-elections have also increased. These take a lot of our time. In between my IEC work I also have to find time for the work of the African Commission, which involves a lot of travelling.”

It’s not all hard work and largely sleepless nights, though. In the spare time she has, Tlakula likes to listen to choral, classical, jazz and R&B music.

IEC crisis averted after inquiry delayed

A crisis over the credibility of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) has been temporarily averted after the Electoral Court postponed an inquiry into its chairperson, Pansy Tlakula, to next month.

The multiparty forum that wants Tlakula removed says it is not concerned that the inquiry into Tlakula’s alleged misconduct has been postponed by four weeks, allowing her to preside over Wednesday’s poll.

Spokesperson for the forum and United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said they expected that the inquiry might take longer.

“We’re happy that at least there is an institution like this court, which is prepared to listen to our case against her, because so far, government and Parliament have been dilly-dallying over taking action on Tlakula.”

He said if the Electoral Court recommended to Parliament that Tlakula be removed and this was ignored by Parliament or the Presidency, the forum was prepared to go to the Constitutional Court to force President Jacob Zuma to comply.

The proximity of the elections and protests that Tlakula deserved a “fair” inquiry that would give her enough time to respond to allegations of misconduct, were the main reasons that the Electoral Court postponed its probe on Friday.

The court, sitting in the South Gauteng High Court, decided to postpone the matter amid a concerted effort by lawyers representing the multiparty forum.

It argued that Tlakula was not fit to hold office because her independence had been compromised by her involvement in business with a senior member of the ANC, MP Thaba Mufamadi.

Judge Lotter Wepener explained that the court had no choice but to postpone the matter until after the elections.

This was because Tlakula’s counsel, Daniel Berger, had refused to present his client’s defence until the court could assure him that it would be able to make a decision before the elections.?–?Xolani Mbanjwa

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