SAhrc ruling on FBJ A 'problem'

Ido Lekota

The South African Human Rights Commission this week decided to throw the proverbial cat among the pigeons.

The SAHRC ruled yesterday that the FBJ's blanket exclusion of white journalists from its membership amounted to unfair discrimination and was therefore against the Constitution.

"In the premises, the commission, though maintaining that voluntary organisations are in and of themselves not unconstitutional, finds that the policy by the FBJ of restricting its membership on the basis of race, would not pass constitutional muster."

The essence of the complaint was that the FBJ unfairly discriminated against white journalists by excluding them from its membership and activities.

The complaint followed an incident in which the FBJ excluded white journalists from its re-launch, which was addressed by ANC president Jacob Zuma.

The FBJ sent out invitations to black journalists only. The event was for its members or potential members who are black.

The forum argued that it had the constitutional right to exist and organise black people with the objective of confronting the realities of racial discrimination that they continue to face in the media industry - 14 years into democracy.

Responding to the SAHRC ruling yesterday FBJ acting chairman Abbey Makoe said: "We have effectively been found guilty of being black and of having the uppity presumption of wanting to address the injustices of the past that continue to thrive to this date."

Makoe further said the FBJ would be holding a convention of all black organisations that are likely to be affected by this "banning order".

"This is because it is our collective black experience that the HRC has put on trial," he said.

Makoe said the ruling raised questions about the future of black organisations such as the Black Lawyers Association, Black Management Forum, Nafcoc and the Black Business Forum.

Yesterday SAHRC chief executive officer Tseliso Thipanyane told Sowetan that it amounted to saying that "any organisation that excludes other people on the basis of race 'except on the basis of affirmative action' was unconstitutional."

The ruling itself has drawn various responses from people in the public domain.

Yesterday political analyst Xolela Mangcu said the SAHRCFBJ saga was "a side show that has nothing to do with reality".

Mangcu said one way of dealing with the matter was for the FBJ to remove the exclusion clause in its constitution.

He said the position adopted by the FBJ could only lead to a situation in which white journalists who do not have the interests of black journalists at heart will scream nonracialism "while in fact they would not join that organisation if it opens its membership".

However, another political analyst, Sipho Seepe, held an opposite view to Mangcu's. He said the ruling was not in tune with reality.

Seepe said the ruling amounted to "legislating against human behaviour because it wanted to force the Constitution down black people's throat".

He said the ruling amounted to punishing the FBJ for facing the reality that things are not okay in this country - where black people continue to suffer the ravages of racism.

Azapo president Mosibudi Mangena described the decision of the SAHRC as "problematic".

He said by making such a ruling the SAHRC was denying black people the opportunity to affirm themselves.

"Who is the SAHRC to say to black people that they cannot do that?'' Mangena asked.

Mangena also pointed out that his party's membership was not exclusively open to black people.

"Our constitution says membership is open to anyone who subscribes to the Black Consciousness philosophy and socialism,"

Socialist Party of Azania president Lybon Mabasa said the SAHRC ruling amounted to "criminalising those who continue to be victims of discrimination on the basis of their race."

He said instead of trying to use the Constitution to prevent black people from organising themselves on the basis of common historical experiences, the SAHRC must call for its amendment.

In its ruling the SAHRC recommended that the FBJ revisit and amend its policies, particularly with regard to the provisions that relate to its membership.

"Until such time as the FBJ has duly revisited and amended such provisions so as to ensure that they are constitutionally valid, the FBJ should desist from excluding membership to its organisation on the basis of race".

Thipanyane indicated that if the FBJ failed to accede to its ruling, the SAHRC would take the matter to the equality court.