Human Rights Commission Inquest begins

16 November 2021 11:00 by John de Villiers

The South African Human Rights Commission has begun its national investigative hearing into the July unrest in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

It comes against a backdrop of needless loss of life and huge financial losses to all businesses, resulting in the worsening of amongst other things, inequality between certain communities; rising unemployment levels; and increased poverty, hunger, and food insecurity. The Commission therefore has deemed it appropriate and in the public interest to investigate the causes of the unrest together with their impact on human rights in terms of its constitutional and statutory mandate. Under section 184(1) of the Constitution it is mandated to promote respect for human rights and a culture of human rights; to promote the protection, development and attainment of human rights.  While Under section 184(2) of the Constitution, the Commission is empowered to investigate and to report on the observance of human rights and to take steps to secure appropriate redress where human rights have been violated.

The formal inquiry, will be held in accordance with sections 13 and 15 of the South African Human Rights Commission Act 40 of 2013 (‘the SAHRC Act’) and Chapter 4 of the Commission’s Complaints Handling Procedures (‘the Procedures Manual’.)[1] In terms of section 13(3) (a) of the SAHRC Act, the Commission is competent and obliged to “investigate on its own initiative or on receipt of a complaint, any alleged violation of human rights”.

Scope of the national investigative hearing[2]

The Panel will inquire into, make findings, report on, and make recommendations and/or directives concerning the following broad and overarching issues for investigation:

  1. The causes of the July unrest, with particular focus on Gauteng Province and KwaZulu-Natal Province.
  2. The causes of the alleged racially motivated attacks and killings in the country.
  3. The causes of the apparent lapses in law enforcement by state security agencies, particularly the South African Police Service; and the role of private security companies in the unrest.
  4. The social, economic, spatial and political factors prevalent in the various affected areas and the extent to which these played a role in the unrest.

In terms of its mandate governing procedure:[3]

  1. The Commission will invite both written and oral submissions from identified government departments, state entities, business chambers, communities and interested parties for the purposes of the inquiry.
  2. These terms of reference provide the framework for the inquiry and may not be materially amended unless specifically approved by the Commission.
  3. Parties may be legally represented, but oral submissions must be made by the parties themselves.
  4. Parties may be requested to provide affidavits for purposes of the hearing.
  5. It is an inquisitorial process. The evidence leaders and members of the panel will ask questions to the witnesses/participants.
  6. Depending on the nature of the evidence provided to the Commission, further affidavits may be requested from parties in the course of or at the conclusion of the hearing. The Commission shall provide timeframes for the receipt of such submissions.
  7. The Chair of the Panel has determined that these proceedings should be open to the members of the public and the media having regard to the:
  • Public interest nature of this matter; and
  • Constitutional obligations of the Commission to observe the principles of accountability, openness and impartiality.

Accordingly, the proceedings are being live streamed by the SAHRC at

[1] Rules Covering Proceedings into the National Investigative Hearing
[2] Terms of Reference for the National Investigative Hearing at Paragraph 3
[3] Terms of Reference for the National Investigative Hearing at Paragraph 4