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Advocate Makhubela removed from Marshalltown fire inquiry

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Johnathan Paoli

Advocate Thulani Makhubela has been recused from the commission of inquiry into the Marshalltown fire that killed over 70 people.

Delivering the ruling on Wednesday in Joburg, the chair of the inquiry Justice Sisi Khampepe said that Makhubela’s support for xenophobic attacks on illegal buildings illustrated his inability to act without bias and impartiality.

Makhubela was one of the presiding commissioners in the inquiry that seeks to find answers to the cause of the deadly fire that has also left hundreds displaced.

“Having regard to the foregoing, I am satisfied that a case has been made out for the recusal of Commissioner Makhubela. In the premises, I rule that Commissioner Makhubela is recused as a Commissioner of the Commission,” Khampepe said.

Khampepe said that the judgment highlighted the fact that motives for bringing a recusal application were taken seriously, while the presiding officer to whom it was brought should not consider it as a personal affront.

“An appearance of bias impairs confidence in fair and just administrative proceedings. It is important to note that the facts relied upon in this application are undisputed and therefore accepted as correct. Commissioner Makhubela’s support for and association with Dudula creates a reasonable apprehension that he might be biased,” Khampepe said.

His removal follows an application submitted by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), in which the NGO accused Makhubela of xenophobia in response to a series of tweets on platform X as well as the advocate expressing his support for the Dudula movement.

SERI-SA executive director Nomzamo Zondo said: “We welcome the ruling of the commission as we believe commissioner Makhubela’s recusal will ensure the commission operates fairly, impartially, and in accordance with its terms of reference and the rule of law.”

Earlier this month, Makhubela did not deny the accusations, but said that he questioned the irregularity of informing the chairperson in private.

Candice Pillay, an attorney from the law firm representing the survivors, said she was relieved now that the ruling has been handed down in favour of the residents.

“I think on behalf of the residents, they had several concerns knowing that Commissioner Makhubela will not be considering the evidence that is going to be presented in the commission,” Pillay said.

Mametlwe Sebei of the General Industries’ Workers Union of South Africa welcomed the ruling and said that with his continued participation, the credibility of any judgement from the commission was under threat.

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