The death of Alexandra resident Collins Khoza, apparently at the hands of soldiers during the early stages of the national state of disaster lockdown over the 2020 Easter weekend, prompted a call for a review of the Military Ombud Act.
The call was made by ombud Vusi Masondo addressing a virtual international conference of ombud institutions hosted from the Australian capital Canberra.
He pointed to a need for “own initiative investigations” by his office in the wake of Khoza’s death, subsequently the subject of an SA Army board of enquiry and apparently still an ongoing police investigation. There have, to date, been no arrests in connection with Khoza’s death and this appears to have prompted the former SA National Defence Force (SANDF) Chief of Staff into seeking a review of the legislation governing the Military Ombud.
An Ombud statement has it “the death of Khoza during an interaction with SANDF members highlighted the need to review the Military Ombud Act to make provision for own initiative investigations”.
In its current form, the Act does not allow Masondo’s office to initiate own investigations unlike other government bodies such as Chapter Nine institutions, but wait for complainants to approach the Ombud with complaints.
Masondo said challenges experienced during the COVID-19 lockdown warranted a review of his office’s mandate and operating procedures to identify and address shortcomings.
He told the virtual gathering the lockdown, still in place at level one in South Africa, adversely affected his office’s 12 month deadline case resolution time. The COVID-19 pandemic forced a review of operating procedures as well as addressing possible shortcomings.
“The increased use of social media to lodge complaints suggests additional complaints registration mechanisms may be needed. Those directly affected by an incident, specifically the Khoza matter, did not come forward to lodge a complaint. We were unable to launch an investigation without a Ministerial instruction,” Masondo said.
“Innovative ways and methods of resolving complaints expeditiously need to be found and this is why the office commissioned a stakeholder perception survey with Stellenbosch University. The objective was to assess stakeholder perception from serving and former members of the SANDF and the public,” he added.
Masondo told conference delegates survey findings and recommendations will assist his office in enhancing service standards, internal systems, public relations, improve public trust and confidence as well as accessibility to the Ombud.
“These interventions will go a long way to strengthening institutional capacity, public perception, enhanced autonomy and knowledge management at the Ombud and the services it provide to the public and armed forces,” he said.