ODAC’s Support in the Case of Alide Dasnois

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ODAC seeks to provide litigation support to the high profile cases of those who have spoken out within the context of the rights and legislation that protect individuals who speak truth to power. We have provided litigation support in a number of cases; most recently in 2014 and 2015 in the case of C373/2014 Motingoe v MEC and HOD Department Infrastructure and Public Works Northern Cape, where we supported Mr Motingoe in the Labour Court, Supreme Court of Appeal and Constitutional Court. Following a long court battle Motingoe is now back at work after the Department refused to reinstate him.

At ODAC, our intention is to both support litigation and create awareness around the need to protect those who speak out, which is why we have chosen to support and drive awareness of the Alide Dasnois vs Independent Newspapers court case that is due to begin on 9 May.

Dasnois vs Independent Newspapers

Alide Dasnois was removed from her position as editor of the Cape Times by the chief executive of the Independent Newspapers, Iqbal Surve, on 6 December 2013 at a meeting at a hotel in Claremont.

In a later disciplinary hearing, Independent Newpapers found she was guilty of "dereliction of duty and/or a gross lack of judgement" in failing to "lead editorially" with the death of Nelson Mandela in the second edition of the Cape Times on 6 December 2013. However, the Cape Times second edition did indeed lead with the death of Madiba. The newspaper produced a special four-page edition with a new front page, two pages of news and a leader, a timeline and tributes. The Cape Times had more news about the event on that day than most other newspapers including reactions and tributes from outside his house, from Ahmed Kathrada, Jacob Zuma, Frans Baleni, Helen Zille, Patricia de Lille, FW de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki, Barack Obama and a prayer from Desmond Tutu.

This treatment of the news of Mandela’s death followed a time-honoured way of marking a special historic event.

Dasnois, with the support of ODAC, is taking the matter to court, where she will argue that the real reason she was fired was to punish her for publishing material about one of the Sekunjalo companies.

Testing the right of editors

In a landmark case in the Cape Labour Court on 9 May 2016, former Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois will test the right of editors to publish material which the publisher deems unacceptable to their private or business interests. In the context of growing concern about media ownership being used to drive corporate agendas, the case will also question whether the level of editorial independence in our media is being compromised.

The court case

Dasnois will argue in court that she was in fact fired to punish her for publishing material about one of the Sekunjalo companies.  The first edition of the newspaper (printed before Madiba's death) led with a story about a long-awaited report by the Public Protector finding that one of the Sekunjalo companies, Sekunjalo Marine Services Consortium, had been improperly awarded a tender by the Department of Agriculture Forestry and Fishing.  For the second edition, this story was folded inside the new Mandela special edition.

The Cape Times also printed an op-ed by Iqbal Surve, followed on Friday 6 December by the newspaper’s own editorial reassuring readers that this did not signal a new trend and reaffirming the newspaper's commitment to accurate and balanced reporting. Dasnois was removed from her position the same day.

On 7 December, a letter was sent to Dasnois by Sekunjalo's lawyers, Edward Nathan Sonnenberg, complaining about the Cape Times coverage of the Sekunjalo contract, demanding a front page apology (the writers were clearly not aware that by then Dasnois had already been removed from her position) and threatening to sue her, the reporter on the story, and the Cape Times if they did not comply.

Punishment for being a whistleblower: Dasnois argument

During the court case against Independent Newspapers, Dasnois will argue that Surve's concerns about the Cape Times coverage of Sekunjalo were the real reason for her sudden removal as editor in the middle of the coverage of Madiba's death.

She will argue that the other reasons advanced by Surve in letters to Independent staff and in the disciplinary hearing, including her failure to position the newspaper correctly, or the falling circulation of the Cape Times, are an attempt to mask the real reason for her dismissal. It is a matter of fact that the circulation of all Independent's newspapers (with one exception) had been falling, and that of the Cape Times much slower than many others.

Right to freedom of expression

Dasnois will argue that Independent Newspapers intended to punish her for publishing material adverse to the interests of its owners and so was in breach of her right to freedom of expression; that her dismissal as editor was an unfair labour practice under the Labour Relations Act; and that it was in breach of her contract. The case will test the rights of editors to publish information about their publishers which run contrary to their corporate interests.

 

Read about South Africa's history of secrecy here.

Read about Alide Dasnois' landmark victory here.

 

What Change Means: the OGP in Africa

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- By Gabriella Razzano

Wednesday 4 May 2016, marked the first day of the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit - kicked off with an afternoon Civil Society Meeting. The opening day has brought to the fore probably one of the most pertinent questions underlying the value of the OGP, but also of the open government and transparency agenda broadly: what is real change?

Sanjay Pradhan has just taken over as the CEO of the OGP. He kicked off his tenure with a great speech to the civil society organisations present, highlighting that the OGP is at a critical point of its development. After five years of being in place, OGP should no longer measure its success by the “number” of countries that join. In the next five years, OGP is going to have to start measuring its worth in terms of the difference it makes to people’s lives.

This can be contextualised through a very practical idea – National Action Plans (NAPs) need to not only be ambitious, but they need to be implemented. Commitments need to not just be about proactive release of information, they need to be about closing the “feedback loop” so that civil society can actually hold government to account. We have to move to an era of substance over form.

This is a very real conversation in the transparency world. Yu & Robinsons spoke eloquently of how “open government data” is often a problematic term, poorly used. In fact, open government should not be conflated with open government data. Open government is more than just being open about information; it is also about being open about information that forwards accountability. Sometimes, when a government is merely being open with data, this data is not necessarily enough to hold the state to account.

This is an important conversation to have, particularly on the African continent. As Pradhan noted, the African continent on average has the highest percentage of ambitious commitments, yet, worryingly, the lowest percentage of full implementation.

What does this mean for OGP? ODAC have just completed an examination on the feasibility of the OGP in Malawi (available here), as Malawi just submitted its first National Action Plan in April 2016, after joining in 2013. Our research discussed many of the problems that might exist in trying to implement the OGP in Malawi, but a finer point that emerged was this: if OGP is to do what it hopes to do, and that is create real open government, it needs to do so in a variety of contexts. And in Malawi, there is an opportunity for real change if OGP can extend its hand in peer learning, instead of being overly focused on how the commitments might be technically framed.

Real change will be defined by the contexts in which OGP takes shape. It will be different things for different countries, but the first step to getting there will be for civil society and government to keep their eye on the prize: substance over form.

OGP Africa Summit: the important info

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 - By Gabriella Razzano

The African Regional OGP Summit is only a few days away, and excitement is mounting for a great programme that will help the exchange of ideas and advance OGP on the continent. It is unfortunately too late to register for the event - but if you have registered, you may be curious about the goings on. This blog will outline the key information for participants.

 The full event runs from 4-6 May 2016.

It starts with the Civil Society Day on the afternoon of the 4th from 4:00pm (accreditation) with events running till 8:00pm, with dinner following.

Day One will begin at 8.30 am with registration with the full programme running until 5.30pm, with dinner following.

Day Two will begin at 9:00 am with the full programme running until the Closing Plenary at 4:00pm.

All 3 days will be hosted at Century City Conference Centre, Cape Town, South Africa.

Main Event Website

The main event website can be visited here.

Agenda
The programme for the main event is located here.

The programme for the Civil Society event can be downloaded here.

Accreditation

2 - 6 May 2016
Time: 8.30 AM to 18.00 PM
Address: Century Blvd & Rialto Road, Century City, Cape Town, 7441, Phone: 021 525 3888
All Delegates should produce positive Identification Documents (e.g passports, ID's, Drivers Licence etc) at the Accreditation Centre

Out-of-towners
The government of South Africa as prepared a travel information pack available here.

Human Networks: reflections on our media and marketing training

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- By Gabriella Razzano

In spite of the importance of our work for the public, South African non-governmental organisations (ngo's) are notoriously bad at both conveying the message about their cause, and conveying the message about themselves. For the past two years, thanks to the support of our friendly funders at Indigo Trust, a group of South African ngo’s has been hard at work trying to remedy this. I took an opportunity to reflect on some of these lessons last year, but last week marked the final of the one-on-one sessions we have been undertaking with the fantastic Katie Findlay and Nicky Cosgreave of Edge Digital in Cape Town.

While I now know how to do Facebook boost posts (easy and cheap) and the strength of placing a period before your @mentions on Twitter (genius), the most profoundly important part of the exercise has been building a network of colleagues – and this network is a profound marketing tool as well. Our partners at Fundza Literacy Trust, People’s Assembly, AfricanLII and SAFLII, Code for South Africa and RLabs have become our new cohorts, and each is doing spectacular work that we will continue to shout loud about.

It goes beyond just talking about each other’s work though: specific partnerships have arisen because of this group. For instance, Adi of Code for South Africa and Marlon of Rlabs will be guest speakers at the super interesting NetProphet Conference Edge Digital are helping to organize at the beginning of August (check it out here). Edge Digital were also instrumental in helping to forward ODAC’s vitally important Blikkiesdorp Campaign, where we sought to forward the housing and information rights of a group of citizens that have been unforgivably shunted aside in City planning. SAFLII and Code for South Africa have also begun working together, among many other shared activities between members.

And even more importantly, these are very real and human connections that are built. We were able to share in the excitement of Katie’s little one, and the sadness of seeing one or two of our colleagues move on to greener work pastures. These human connections drive us, and strengthen the very network that can help us to advance the causes we hold so dear.

Bringing together the right people at the right time is how you change the world. That is, at its heart, what we have all been working toward – so we should continue to do it together.

'Is Blikkies home?' A documentary about access to information

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“Is Blikkies Home” was filmed throughout the course of 2015. The aim of the documentary is to follow the process that the residents of Blikkiesdorp went through, together with ODAC and a coalition of organisations including The Right to Know, The Development Action Group, the Community Law Centre and the Legal Resources Centre to gain access to information from the City of Cape Town about the plans for their housing and relocation.

Located 30km from Cape Town on the N2, Blikkiesdorp, which means Tin Town in colloquial Afrikaans, is a temporary relocation area that was created by the City of Cape Town in the 2007 as a temporary place for people with housing problems.

The houses at Blikkiesdorp were meant to be used for a period of 6 months and yet some of the residents have been living in the houses for over 7 years. Made from tin, the houses have no indoor shower, bath, toilet facilities or insulation and are therefore either very hot in South Africa’s summer, or freezing cold in winter. As there are no indoor ablution facilities, up to 10 residents have to share outside ablution structures that often don’t work, and are rife with diseases.

The residents of Blikkiesdorp have been moved from their previous communities to the area as a temporary housing solution. The community is made up of a variety of different people that were moved to the area by the City of Cape Town due to ‘emergency situations’, including victims of xenophobic attacks, unstable housing structures or are people that were previously homeless. Many residents have been moved far away from their previous employment locations and have subsequently lost their jobs, resulting in the fact that in 2015 73% of residents have no form of formal work or income.

The documentary tells of the residents’ journey to gain access to the information around the plans the City of Cape Town has for them, where they are going to be moved, and when.

This is the story of the Blikkiesdorp community:  

 

 Part of the Blikkiesdorp community’s key concerns are the plans by the ACSA  to expand and improve the runways. The Memorandum of Agreement between the City of Cape Town and the Airport Company sets out a plan for the development of alternative accommodation for the Blikkiesdorp residents – but there seems to be no plan to deal with the increase in noise from airport – which will exceed international guidelines and will affect nearly 400 000 people. The major problem with the plans in the MOA is that the City has no trime frame for moving the community.

To see what areas will be affected see our article: How will Blikkiesdorp be affected by the new Airport.

 

 

(Photo credit: Images kindly supplied by Lizane Louw: Photojournalist and Documentary Photographer. To view Lizane's website click here, to visit the Blikkiesdorp community Facebook page click here.)