Corlett Letlojane (South Africa)


[March 8, 2011]

Corlett Letlojane (South Africa)

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The following video of an interview with Corlett Letlojane (South Africa), Executive Director of the Human Rights Institute of South Africa, has been edited for time and content. A transcript of the interview conducted by Ryota Jonen, senior manager of the World Movement, is included.

DemocracyVoices - Corlett Letlojane from World Movement for Democracy on Vimeo.

Corlett: My name is Corlett Letlojane and I work for the Human Rights Institute of South Africa, I am the Executive Director there.
Ryota: Thank you, Corlett.  I have three questions for you related to challenges that South African democracy is facing. So the World Movement for Democracy had its Third Assembly in Durban, South Africa, in 2004. South Africa was, back then, celebrating new democracy. But today, it seems to be that South Africa is in a different stage. Can you explain some of the challenges or changes that South African democracy is facing?
Corlett: Yes, definitely 2010 was the year in which we could plow back and show some progress in terms of the structures that the government have installed since 1994 and to assess their stability and to assess their effectiveness. I think it was a time where others wanted to actually place themselves and understand the work of some of the democratic institutes that are set up by the government. And I must say that they haven’t done that evaluation. Things have begun to divert, to take a different route, because these institutions, they need resources, they need to run with efficiency, they need to be known by people in civil society, especially people in the rural areas.
Many people are still not aware of the South African Human Rights Commission, although it is now established in all the provinces of South Africa. The problem is that they are placed in city centers so people who are in extremely rural communities find it very, very hard and difficult to access these institutions. They don’t have jobs, and transport can also be a problem for them to access these institutions. So the institutions are not effective in terms of reaching out to the people or the people accessing them.
And, also, some of the personnel working in these institutions are coming into the institutions through political affiliation and they have not shown their independence, because the law makes them to function independently without fear, without prejudice, and without bias. So that independence is sometimes very much affected and you don’t see them, you know, revealing or exposing mass violations of human rights or corruption.
It will be certain sectors or, opposition, opposition has become the monitor or the watchdog of the government. We’ve seen opposition do wonderful work exposing many things and because they are having some powers or rights at parliamentary level, they are using they powers very, very effectively.
Ryota: So, how do you explain the reason why these changes are happening, or, the situation that you explained?
Corlett: I’m thinking that first of all, although I have mentioned the positive aspects of the opposition being able to talk and raise up some problems, the South African people have suffered so much during the Apartheid era, they still have a level of mistrust, people don’t trust some of the opposition. For example the DA (the Democratic Alliance) is not very much trusted. People still feel that it wants to repeat, you know, the status of Apartheid and people do not want to join some of the opposition. But we have huge, huge numbers of people - I think the number is increasing - no matter what the leading party (ANC) is doing, people are still voting for it.
And also, we have seen something quite disappointing. When the former President of the ANC, Mr. Mbeki, was called off of his position due to some of the internal or external problems that the ruling party perceived, some of it was the way he was pushing the issue of HIV/AIDS, and then the issue of protecting some of the high, prominent officials (like in the police), who were actually associated with some of the criminals who had committed very, very capital crimes, and how he was also dealing with the issue of Zimbabwe. You know, for us it was a critical time for us to play an important role. Also on Sudan, the way South Africa, you know, was projecting itself especially after it obtained that non-permanent member to Chair the Security Council of the UN, many people expected a robust action from this country, with such past record of human rights, stability that has been set up immediately after Apartheid - it was enormous, it was remarkable. So those were the things that civil society was dissatisfied with.
The ANC also had their own internal problems, how Mbeki was called off, and how other parties and other people in the society were promoting the upcoming of the current President. So the way it was not done, it was not done very well. Although there were difficulties, I don’t think they demonstrated very good leadership by ousting Mbeki the way they have done because there is more corruption now.
Corruption is worse, actually. The way the officials have run things like tenders, where civil society can participate in and access resources to support the government, there is a lot of corruption. Those cases of corruption, the way they are dealt with, people get redeployed instead of taking serious measures because our country is committed to promoting human rights. And they have a program where they have committed themselves to address the imbalances, the socio-economic imbalances that were created by Apartheid structures. For them it’s important to correct them, to correct it, and bring the poor, marginalized communities on par in terms of providing the education, providing the health services, providing job opportunities, and housing. The type of housing that is currently built up, you can see that there is a lot of corruption. So people are not satisfied, it is quite, very, very, disappointing to be honest.
Ryota: To overcome those challenges that you have just mentioned, what are the things that civil society, you, and your colleagues, should be planning?
Corlett: Ok, the civil society is now working in coalition to overcome. There was a death of NGOs, the community based organizations, the paralegals who used to be very vital at community level - they have been wiped out due to low resources and to some joining the government as well.
So donors are also facing other problems in South Africa. Their focus is outside the borders of South Africa where there are important or more critical issues of human rights. So that is a challenge for us.
Now it is important for people to work in coalitions, which we see coming, and by doing so, we are able to work with a united voice. We can advocate more strongly with one united voice. Issues of resources, issues of capacity remain our challenges. And then also educating people, going into communities, forging networks at the international level, forging networks at regional levels, coming to African Commission for example, and doing something at the AU level.
We have ECOSOC (the Economic and Social Council), which is supposed to be the process of civil society. It is very, very weak because it lacks critical and independent voices. We do not want to be posting about because we are brushing around the shoulders of our leaders. We want to lobby them. We want to encourage them to implement the policies, to implement the legislations that the AU itself is committed to implementing. So it becomes very, very critical for us to understand what’s going on in the region, to understand what’s going on at national level, and to continue advocating for change through enforcement and through education especially in communities that we work in. Thank you.
Ryota: Thank you.