The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) received a formal complaint this week about government spokesman Jimmy Manyi’s ill-fated comments on racial equity and employment, CEO Kayum Ahmed said yesterday.
“We only received the complaint yesterday,” he said at a briefing to Parliament’s justice committee on the commission’s budget.
Ahmed declined to say who had brought the complaint or whether it focused on Manyi’s remark that there was “an over-supply” of coloured people in Western Cape or an earlier comment that “Indians have bargained their way to the top”.
Manyi said that in an address to the Durban Chamber of Commerce last year. The complaint is understood to have been filed in Durban.
Ahmed said the SAHRC would be able to give more information only in about a week once its legal committee had met to discuss the matter.
Manyi’s remarks have triggered a divisive row in the top echelons of government and the ruling party two months before local government elections – with Planning Minister Trevor Manuel branding the former director-general of labour “a racist in the mould of HF Verwoerd”.
SAHRC chairperson Lawrence Mushwana suggested that the remarks were problematic because they were hurtful to the minorities Manyi mentioned and told MPs that the commission was debating the issue even before the complaint reached its offices.
“Our politicians can make points, yes, but without hurting other people’s feelings.”
However, he added: “We don’t want to be taking sides.”
Opposition MPs seized on the matter as part of a broader call on the SAHRC to use its muscle to stop human rights abuses wherever they occur rather than worry about encroaching on the terrain of other Chapter 9 institutions.
Inkatha Freedom Party MP Mario Oriani-Ambrosini vehemently rejected concerns from commissioners that it was not sufficiently clear where their brief begins and that of other bodies ends.
He said its task was to “fight for human rights in the trenches” and ensure rights abusers land in jail, not to compile reports that were rarely read.
“We are not going to turn into a human rights society by means of reports and road shows. You are not a collaborator, you are an opposer.
“You are our knight in shining armour and until that function is understood you are meek, weak and largely a waste of money.
“You must ensure coloureds in the Western Cape that their dignity will be protected by the Constitution,” he added.
The Democratic Alliance’s Dene Smuts said she believed the Manyi saga provided a perfect opportunity for the commission to produce “an authoritative document on equity” clearly explaining the dictates of the Constitution in this regard.
Mushwana later said her suggestion was “plausible, worth looking at”.
“We want to be an authoritative body,” he added.