Lone fight for RTI justice

2014-11-10 00:00

A LONE crusader has taken on the KZN government to ensure justice for the RTI recruits, whose tragic deaths in an inhumane fitness test haunts her.

Jane Harley’s quest on behalf of the eight recruits who died in December 2012, as well as the many others who were hospitalised, has had her file applications for information using the Public Access to Information Act (PAIA).

So far, she has discovered that the costs of the commission could far outweigh the compensation the families receive.

The legal fees paid by the Department of Transport had already mounted to R9 million by September last year and Harley is still struggling to get the figures until July 1 this year, when the Commission was wrapped up. So far, her appeals and e-mails have been ignored.

She has decided to go to court for the information, if need be.

Harley has also learnt that the chairperson of the commission, Advocate Thandi Norman, was paid R21 000 a day during the sittings of the commission, while her co-commissioners Advocate Thandanani Mthembu was paid R17 000 a day and Bishop Rueben Philip R14 000.

Throughout this process, she has succeeded in getting the bulk of the damning RTI commission report. All that has been released to the public to date is the summarised version read out by Premier Senzo Mchunu in August. She said Mchunu did reveal the key points of the report that the deaths were caused by the reckless actions of four officials.

However, for Harley, the devil is in the detail and she is to study the report to see what the Commissioners dealt with, what was left out and what was glossed over. Already she is concerned over the lack of detailed recommendations around compensation for the families.

For Harley it seems unconscionable that lawyers defending the Transport Department could end up getting much more out of this ordeal than the families who lost their loved ones could ever expect.

It is now just over two months since the premier announced the summary of commission findings on the eve of the KZN Transport MEC Willies Mchunu’s budget speech in the provincial parliament.

Mchunu took responsibility on behalf of the errant officials fingered in his department, saying: “We are the culprits.” He added that the four officials were on the verge of being charged.

But, says Harley, more than two months have gone by and nobody has been charged.

Department spokesperson Kwanele Ncalane said as far as he was aware the premier’s office had arranged the commission and the information should be forthcoming from that office.

He said he would look into the matter and added that a plan had been de­veloped to deal with all the recommendations of the commission and they were in the process of carrying this out.

• nalini@witness.co.za

WHEN the RTI recruits died, Jane Harley wasn’t reading newspapers or listening to the news.

She had taken a decision to cut herself off from the world. She only heard about the incident days after it happened.

“I was shocked at the senseless deaths of these young people, I was struck by the stupidity of it all. How can you have 40 000 recruits running for 90 jobs. I once likened it to the Hunger Games as I was struck by the callousness of the entire operation. There was no water, no proper preparations and people were waiting to run in the blistering heat from 6 am until late in the evening. People died on the first day and still the fitness test was not stopped,” Harley said.

She added that she made a commitment on that day to get more involved in the world.

“It has become important to me that I see this all the way through. Initially all I wanted to ensure was that these young people wouldn’t be forgotten.”

After watching the way the commission operated and the lengthy legal arguments defending the Transport Department, she decided that the public deserved to know how its money was being used.

“The commission was there to find out the truth. Why did [the department] get so defensive? If you listened to what came out of the commission, they were attempting to lay the blame on the department of health and even the recruits for causing their own deaths.”

She wants to see justice done and those fingered in the report held to account, with nothing swept under the carpet. For Harley, what matters is that young South Africans died cruel and unnecessary deaths because of the “reckless” actions of a few officials.

Jane Harley likens fitness tests to ‘Hunger Games’

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