Parly tries to bar rape activists from Public Protector interviews

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Chairperson Makhosi Khoza at the Public Protector interviews in the Old Assembly Building, Cape Town. Picture: Jaco Marais
Chairperson Makhosi Khoza at the Public Protector interviews in the Old Assembly Building, Cape Town. Picture: Jaco Marais

Parliament tried to bar three activists wearing purple anti-rape T-shirts from entering the institution yesterday, apparently nervous that they may stage a protest and embarrass the institution. 

This came just days after rape activists stole the spotlight with a silent protest at the Independent Electoral Commission results centre in Pretoria, as President Jacob Zuma officially accepted elections results. 

Three members of Rape Crisis, an organisation working with rape survivors were in Parliament for the Public Protector interviews yesterday morning. They encountered their first hurdle at the main visitors’ centre where visitors to Parliament sign in for access. 

Jeanne Bodenstein, advocacy coordinator for Rape Crisis, told City Press that she arrived with two colleagues to attend the meeting of the ad hoc committee established to appoint a new Public Protector. 

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She said as they were signing in, a protection services officer who was manning the reception desks informed them “it may be a problem that we were wearing these T-shirts”. 

“I said we are not protesting, we are exercising our right to attend the proceedings of the interviews for the new Public Protector,” said Bodenstein. 

The officer took a photograph of the T-shirt and disappeared, to inquire from her superiors. But that was before she allegedly advised the three activists: “If you can’t take the T-shirts off, then you might not be allowed to come in.” 

Bodenstein had inquired whether a T-shirt from another organisation highlighting a different issue would have been a allowed. 

“She said ‘let’s not get technical but after Khwezi...’ I got the feeling that she wanted to be politically correct and not offend,” added Bodenstein, who has visited Parliament numerous times before without any hiccups. 

The officer finally allowed them access into the institution and warned them “to observe and not do anything else”. 

Shortly after taking their seats in the interviews venue in the Old Assembly Chamber alongside other visitors, they were hauled out by another protection officer. 
City Press witnessed this. 

The man in a white shirt with a Parliament emblem on it allegedly told them to move. 

“He said we can’t sit here, we must go upstairs because we are the public. He was very aggressive in his demeanour,” said Bodenstein. 

She added: “He never said it was because we wore these T-shirts, but it was clearly the reason.” 

Fortunately for the three activists, well-known activists Alison Tilley of the Open Democracy Advice Centre and Judith February intervened and reiterated that Parliament was a public space, the interviews a public hearing and there was no reason to bar the activists. 

By the time the matter reached the ad hoc committee members – through social media – it had already been resolved and the trio were back in their seats. 

Committee chairperson Makhosi Khoza reiterated during the meeting that Parliament was a public space and all were welcome in it. 

“It raised awareness without us having that aim at all,” Bodenstein said about Khoza’s remarks. 

Last night, Parliament’s spokesperson Luzuko Jacobs said they were following up on the matter “with the seriousness it deserves”. 

He said Parliament actively facilitated attendance of committee meetings by members of the public and this was what defined Parliament. 

“We are happy that already we have established that it was Parliamentary officials who also intervened to ensure that the situation was immediately normalised,” added Jacobs via text message.

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