The Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, made the determination to grant Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity, after she was domestically implicated in assault in August, this year. In response to requests from International Relations and Cooperation Portfolio Committee to have her account for decisions before Parliament, Minister Mashabane stated she would not be doing so; citing the sub-judice rule. Below is a brief interview Political Analysis South Africa’s Stephanie Naidoo had with Hon. Stevens Mokgalapa, Member of the Portfolio Committee on International Relations and Cooperation in Parliament.
Interviewer: Please could you provide context to the issue of Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane refusing to account to Parliament.
Stevens Mokgalapa: We, as the Democratic Alliance, are quite disappointed and do not accept Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane decision, or letter that she sent to the Portfolio Committee, indicating that the matter of Grace Mugabe is sub-judice because it is before the court. This came after I had written a letter to the Committee Chair to summon the Minister to come and account to Parliament about her decision to grant Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity. And that letter was subsequently agreed to by the Committee, that we summon the Minister to account to the Committee. So I have written the letter to her, and to the Committee, on 23 August 2017, when everything was accepted by the Committee, that we summon the Minister. We just received the letter; the response from the she would not be able to come to the Committee, to come and account, and quoting the sub-judice rule; and that sub-judice rule does not apply in this case because, where Parliament should be doing, and conducting, oversight as to hold the Executive accountable – the sub-judice rule does not apply. So, all that can happen, is she should come to the Committee, and come to Parliament, and where questions are asked that are directly related to the court case, she may choose not to respond – but she can speak to the substance of the debate, or the substance of the subject matter that is being discussed at that point in time. So, we do not accept her reason that the matter is sub-judice.
What would you assume is the Minister’s agenda for avoiding Parliamentary oversight?
It is quite clear. She knows that there were no grounds for her to have granted Grace Mugabe diplomatic immunity – she does not qualify to receive diplomatic immunity, and she was not here on SADC-related business; she was here on private business and she committed a domestic crime for which she must face the Rule of Law, and the domestic law. Grace Mugabe was shielded from facing our own laws because of this diplomatic immunity, so the Minister does not want to come to account to Parliament, and is using the sub-judice rule, because she knows that her decision was irrational, and invalid, and illegal.
I understand that the DA has, in fact, approached the Constitutional Court on the matter.
Yes, we can confess that we have obviously taken the letter to the High Court, and the Constitutional Court, simultaneously, to have that decision reviewed and set aside, and we hope, and are confident, that the court will rule in our favour.
In the interim period, what does the Committee, and Parliament, intend to do, considering that Minister Mashabane may not appear to before the Portfolio Committee to account to the Parliament?
This term of Parliament ends tomorrow, with the questions to the Peace and Security Cluster, which International Relations and Cooperation fall under, but unfortunately she is not here; she attended the BRICS Conference in China, and now she is in Vietnam. We would have liked to have her come and account as far as that is concerned. She also had written a letter to the Speaker, trying to explain her decision and indicating her decision, and that she would like to come. This refers to about ten events that she cannot attend because of the sub-judice rule – and this is quite unsustainable, and we hope that when Parliament reconvenes in October, that she can be able to account to the Committee. I will, again, write another letter, indicating that I have already objected in the Committee meeting today when the Chairperson presented us with the letter referring to the sub-judice rule. I will write another letter, that the Minister should be held before Parliament to account for her decision to grant diplomatic immunity to Grace Mugabe.
She cannot escape Parliamentary accountability because it is part of her Constitutional duty, and our Constitutional duty as Parliament, to hold the Executive accountable.
Hon. Mokgalapa, is there anything you would like to add?
The essence is to say that the sub-judice rule cannot be used to override Executive’s accountability. In this case, the Minister is running away from Parliament and absconding on her key duty – which to be held accountable, and for Parliament to conduct oversight over her. And we would want her to come to Parliament, irrespective of the court case that is pending; and if she refuses to come to Parliament, we will also see her in court.