12 December 2017

Are South African citizens doing enough to fight corruption?

SAHA attended the civil society briefing on the People's Tribunal on Economic Crime in South Africa (the People's Tribunal), held in Johannesburg on the 7th of November 2017. The session was attended by a number of representatives from various civil society and community-based organisations and social movement activists. After a brief introduction by everyone, each explaining who they are and which organisation they represent, Ms Carina Conradie from the Right2Know Campaign (an organising committee member) facilitated a presentation about the mission, scope and format of the People's Tribunal. 

The purpose of the People's Tribunal

The People's Tribunal is a communal effort aimed at addressing the impact of corruption and other economic crimes, both past and contemporary, on the welfare of South Africa. It aims to open up a platform for informed debate in which the public will be able to freely engage in discussion about the continuities of corruption in the country. The main idea is to, ultimately, hold the role players in the public and private sector who have committed acts of corruption to account. The scope and the process of the People's Tribunal slightly overlaps with some of the work of the South African Council of Churches' (SACC), its format is however different in the sense that it aims to bear a resemblance to Commission of Enquiry run by the people. What is of interest is the idea that the People's Tribunal on Economic Crimes will be working with the SACC, which has been looking closely - for some time - at the nature of corruption in South Africa.

Anti-corruption work of the South African Council of Churches

Hennie van Vuuren from Open Secrets gave a brief overview of the work of the SACC, on corruption, so far. He highlighted that the SACC has conducted a series of hearings on the impact of corruption on the South African economy, and that confessions were made during this process and some evidence surfaced. It is believed that evidence that has been obtained by the SACC will play a major role in the addressing the impact of economic crimes and in dispelling corruption. According to the organising committee, Bishop Mpumlwana from the SACC has attended a couple of discussions that helped shape thinking on what the People's Tribunal should look like and has been invited to be an adjudicator on the panel.

The role of adjudicators during the Tribunal's hearing

Adjudicators are essentially going to be a combination of people with legal backgrounds, as well as people from civil society. A panel of about seven adjudicators will consider submissions and evidence from the public, and ultimately issue a written report on their findings that will be presented to the public. The findings of the People's Tribunal could then potentially be used to launch litigation or to start building new cases that can eventually be taken up through litigation. 

SAHA responding to the call for submissions

The People's Tribunal has confidence in members of civil society, activists and the public in general that collectively they can effect change. In response to the People's Tribunal call for submissions on Economic Crime and Inequalities, SAHA has demonstrated its interest in making a submission to the People's Tribunal. SAHA will be making a submission primarily focused on the role of historic and contemporary records, and the accessibility of those records, in combatting corruption. The submission will also highlight the lack of transparency with respect to this information. Our submission will note the impact of a failure to comply with a constitutional duty to ensure access to information on attempts to address corruption. Our submission will also make some suggestions with respect to addressing systemic secrecy.


In concluding remarks the Committee responded to questions about the safety and security of persons who will be giving testimony. The Committee advised that some security measures will be put in place to ensure the safety of those who, in good faith, come forward with evidence, should their safety or security be threatened. It was encouraging to see attendees in the room demonstrate an interest in participating in the People's Tribunal. Those attending the briefing appeared happy to become better informed and empowered to actively take action to fight corruption in South Africa. South African citizens are essentially understood to be eager to engage in debate on the continuities of corruption from the late 1970s, up to present-day state capture.

Additional information about the People's Tribunal is available on the Tribunal's website.