Parliament must carry the can for suicide

2018-09-23 09:57
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Former and current employees of Parliament are calling on the House to be held accountable for a tragic “protest” suicide, instead of shifting the blame on to the police.

The employees, angered at the tragic death of Lennox Garane, claim that Parliament has been disingenuous by turning the tragedy into an issue of security, instead of a labour relations issue.

Among those who spoke to City Press this week is Motlatsi Mokgatla, the former deputy head of Parliament’s protection services.

“The police cannot stop a person from committing suicide. A person can jump off the highest building in Parliament and take their life that way,” said Mokgatla.

“That a gun was used is secondary to the fact, which remains [about] how Parliament deals with its staff. Why blame the police for a matter which required Parliament to act?

“In my experience, there are staff members who are managers or even MPs, who refuse to allow the police to do their job. They refuse to be searched and will shout: ‘Do you know who I am? I am a member of Parliament’ or ‘I am a senior manager; I can’t be searched.’”

On Tuesday, the SA Police Service will brief the portfolio committee on police about matters related to security at the national key point.

Garane, who was a section manager for policy in the international relations and protocol division of Parliament, shot himself in his office last Friday.

At a memorial service this week, his brother, Sithembiso Garane, revealed that the deceased had left behind a dossier documenting how toxic his work space had become, along with a letter addressed to his wife.

“I am sorry, I could not take it anymore, this is a protest suicide against gross unfairness,” the letter read.

At the memorial service Sithembiso said: “It is not true that my brother did what he did because of a contract. It is the environment in this work space that he has suffered for 18 months, and he has cried and nobody was prepared to hear.”

Deputy Speaker Lechesa Tsenoli went as far as to apologise to Garane’s family this week, saying Parliament could have handled the matter differently.

He told City Press that plans were under way to institute an inquiry into what led to the protest suicide.

“There is a proposal for objectively inquiring into what led to the death. We would like to have it done independently, but that decision has not yet been taken. We are waiting to talk to the presiding officers, so as soon as they return [from Cuba], we will be able to set in motion the process to handle that matter,” Tsenoli said.

“It is partly an organisational matter, and that is why we think it requires an independent, objective assessment, so that we can act as quickly as possible where necessary.

“The man himself said ‘this is a protest suicide’, which means that in the relationships they had at work, it requires us to ask: What does that mean?

“We want his version of things. We would like to be able to find where he had written about the issues, and then we’ll go from there. Those who are involved must then be interviewed to determine what they did or did not do, including all those who are mentioned, as his brother said.”

The horror stories are not, however, limited to protection services. Current and former employees painted a bleak picture of working conditions at Parliament, saying the silence from labour committees was deafening.

Mokgatla and the head of protection services, Zelda Holtzman, were suspended from Parliament in 2015 by Parliamentary Secretary Gengezi Mgidlana for objecting to his abuse of blue lights and the process of hiring the so-called white shirts, among other things. He said this week that he was not surprised that someone had finally reacted to what had been happening at Parliament.

“What Garane did is not just a suicide; it is a sacrifice to shed light on the pain and suffering that the staff of Parliament are exposed to,” said Mokgatla.

“He could have done this at his home or in the street, but he intentionally chose to do this at the place of the cause, and that is Parliament. No one has been taken to task. Instead, the police are being made the scapegoats.”

A policeman who serves in the House told City Press this week that he, too, was not surprised.

“In fact, we had been anticipating that someone would come in and shoot a number of people before turning the gun on themselves. Remember, many of us come from the military and have personal firearms. What happens at Parliament is unfair. People in power know about it, but nothing is being done about it,” the officer said.

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