'Is Eben Etzebeth a racist lunatic?' - MPs grill HRC's Buang Jones about Bok's racism case
The SA Human Rights Commission's handling of a racism case involving Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth came back to haunt the commission's acting head of legal, Buang Jones, when he appeared for a deputy public protector interview in Parliament on Tuesday.
At least four MPs who sit in the National Assembly's justice portfolio - which interviewed candidates to fill the deputy public protector vacancy - wanted to know about the case.
Jones is one of seven candidates shortlisted by parliament for the position ahead of incumbent Kevin Malunga's seven-year term coming to an end next month.
The DA's Glynnis Breytenbach was the first up, asking Jones to explain the comments he made at a community meeting in Langebaan. It was reported that Jones said Etzebeth "got away with murder" and that the commission was going to make an example of him.
“Did you say those things and, if you did, how does it bode with your views on the rule of law, due process and the fact that you say you consider yourself bound by those concepts?” Breytenbach asked.
Jones said his comments were taken out of context.
He said the context in which he made the statement was that of a commission which has a promotional mandate, and, as a credible litigant before the equality court, he has a duty to vigorously speak in favour of complainants and not respondents.
Jones explained how, unlike other Chapter Nine institutions, the HRC could litigate and how upon the institution of proceedings in the equality court, it ceases to be impartial as it is no longer investigating.
In the Etzebeth case, he said, the commission had taken a resolution to institute proceedings in the equality court and he “was simply carrying out the instruction of my commission”.
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The commission convened a community meeting in Langebaan in October at the request of the community to allow members of the community to recount their experiences.
“I was simply rephrasing and reminding them of the things I had heard during the course of the day. It is correct that I said we will make an example of Mr Etzebeth.”
This statement, he said, was making reference to the criminal theory of deterrence and it is also in the Equality Act that South Africa should take incidences of racism seriously, given the country's history.
“So, the statement was made in reference to other alleged incidents involving Mr Etzebeth and his family and friends in which it is alleged that the SAPS and the NPA did nothing about it - and we said it stops here,” he said.
The Afrikanerbond had wanted the commission to investigate the appropriateness of Jones' remarks.
He told MPs during his interview that the commission has since received two external legal opinions which exonerated him, adding that the commission's fact-finding exercise will be finalised in due course.
When another DA MP, Werner Horn, asked Jones if he would have have handled the situation differently in the Etzebeth case, Jones said he identified that people did not really understand the role of the commission.
ANC MP Xola Nqola was more blunt when he asked Jones: “Do you honestly think Eben Etzebeth is a racist lunatic who must be isolated from society?"
Jones responded: “As we speak there is a prima facie case of unfair discrimination and hate speech against Mr Etzebeth.”