Commemoration of Right to Know Day: Reviewing the Power of PAIA as an Agent for Change

Khulumani recently participated in seminars that were organised by the South African History Archive at Constitution Hill to mark the 10th anniversary of International Right to Know Day, 28 September. Two Khulumani staff members attended the Right to Know dialogue forum on September 26 and two Khulumani local group chairpersons attended the seminar for paralegals on September 27.

Context of Khulumani's Use of PAIA to Facilitate Social Change

Khulumani has been training its active citizen member groups in the use of PAIA to address local community problems with some important returns for member communities who have used this mechanism.

Amongst the most successful applications of PAIA by Khulumani has been its use of PAIA to identify where blockages exist for elderly members of communities who have had their names on waiting lists for housing for prolonged lengths of time. Some of the greatest successes have been in Sedibeng Municipality where Khulumani groups have assisted elderly survivor victims to access houses.

Khulumani made a successful PAIA application to Parliament to request information on the personal financial interests of every Member of Parliament. This application was used to assess access to Special Pensions amongst MPs as opposed to amongst ordinary citizens who contributed a minimum of five years of service in the liberation struggle.

The Special Pension application and adjudication process has been thwarted by many problems and Khulumani is collaborating in an application to the High Court in Pretoria to try to remedy some of these problems such as:

  • seeking evidence of discrimination in the adjudication of Special Pensions;
  • of rejections based on the lack of available records of South Africans who were in exile;
  • the failure of the Special Pensions Unit to provide written reasons for their rejection of hundreds of applications as required in the Act on Just Administrative Action; and
  • the lack of clear definitions for use by officials in respect of accounting for time spent 'in the service of the liberation struggle'.

Khulumani also successfully accessed a report of the National Lotteries Board on its implementation of its heritage project activities in seven provinces through a PAIA application. 

The following report on the SAHA Right to Know dialogue forum was prepared by Ms Pamela Whitman:

The South African History Archives (SAHA) dialogue forum on the Right to Know took place at Constitution Hill on 26 September 2012 with the purpose of marking the 10th anniversary of International Right to Know Day, 28 September and was attended by some 100 individuals. The audience included those who have submitted PAIA requests, as well as organizations that receive requests for information.

Both groups gained a better understanding of each others challenges. The discussion centred around implementation challenges associated with the right to know in South Africa and the steps that should be taken by both government and civil society to transform the right from paper to reality. Khulumani Support Group was represented at the dialogue by Ms Pamela Whitman and Ms Sally Musandirire.

Panelists at the event included Mr Dario Milo, Mr Mukelani Dimba  and Ms Alison Tilley from the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC); Ms Kathleen Hardy from the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS); Dr Dale McKinley, an independent researcher and associate of the Right2Know Campaign; Mr Hennie van Vuuren, a fellow of the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and Ms Tammy O,Connor from SAHA.

SAHA launched their new website, the ‘Freedom of Information Programme' website which tracks requests lodged by the PAIA Civil Society Network and facilitates the sending out of notifications to relevant parties about actions to be followed up. Presently, 191 requests are being tracked. Ms Tammy O’Connor, the Australian volunteer with SAHA, shared her experience of the use by a community in North West Province of PAIA to access information about a land trust that had been established in their community.  

Dario Milo from WITS Law School, presented examples on the use of strategic litigation to access information through the courts. He spoke about the Khampepe-Moseneki Report on the 2002 Zimbabwean elections, the BHP price formulae matter; the Travelgate matter and the report on maladministration in the Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. He explained that these cases highlight the importance of public interest over-rides in legislation and the difficulties of holding organizations both in the public and private sector accountable. He spoke of many years and resources being taken up in pursuing access to information through the courts.


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