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Nothing ‘above board’ about management of country communities

  • 2b-Letter7
I refer to a column which appeared on page 19 of your 1-8 February edition, written by Shaun Zagnoev.
by Dennis Wiener, Israel | Feb 07, 2019

I note with interest that the column expressly states that it has been paid for by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD), and that above the author’s name appears the words “Above Board”. I disagree that matters are “above board”.

I am an ex-Pietersburger now living in Israel. My parents, grand-parents, and many friends are buried at the Pietersburg Jewish Cemetery. In terms of the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation Trust, it is required to maintain the cemetery in perpetuity.

I am concerned about the following:

1.    The SAJBD is failing to fulfil its obligations to country communities, whether in respect of trusts or otherwise.

2.    In 2018, the Gauteng constitution was amended to exclude about 95% of the geographical area for which it was then responsible. The areas which now fall outside of Gauteng include Witbank, Springs, Kroonstad, Welkom, Potchefstroom, Polokwane, and many others.

3.    Accordingly, as of next year, only the Gauteng and Pretoria urban areas will remain under the jurisdiction of the Gauteng board. Where the excluded communities sit is not entirely known. It would appear that the SAJBD has “washed its hands” and moved along. What then?

4.    Furthermore, and no doubt because of the above decision, Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, who is probably better known to readers as the “travelling rabbi”, has been given notice that his tenure with the SAJBD will terminate at the end of this year. It confirms that country communities are no longer a focus of the SAJBD – if they were even a concern of the SAJBD.

5.    What, then, is the future of country communities, the members of which are in effect being “excommunicated”? What was the basis for this decision? Zagnoev is silent about this. The immediate question, then, is which elements of the South African Jewish community does the SAJBD seek to represent? Only its strident supporters, it appears. That is an entirely flawed approach.

6.    In his paid advertorial, Zagnoev states that on an annual basis, the trustees of the various trusts, have meetings to “assess how the funds have been allocated during the previous year, and how they should be used in the year to come”. I disagree. This is nonsense which Zagnoev could never support.

7.    I am concerned, and believe, that such meetings have, in fact, not taken place, and that there has been a general lack of proper governance and compliance with community trust deeds insofar as country communities are concerned. There have been a number of appointed “commission” reports on this issue, including the Donen report and Joffe report, some of which have been reported in your newspaper yet, curiously, have never been made available to community members. Why not? Surely the community is entitled to know what is going on?

8.    With regard the reference to Beyachad, it (Beyachad) has by all accounts unilaterally extended its role way beyond simple administrative services, in spite of what Zagnoev suggests. The activities of Beyachad require thorough investigation, and by an independent body. The findings then ought to be made available to the community. An organisation which survives on donor funding needs to account for its activities in all respects, and without exception.

9.    My concerns are such that after requesting access to information in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA), the SAJBD for all practical purposes declined my request. I have launched legal proceedings against the SAJBD in the Johannesburg High Court. I have done so in an effort to obtain access to records held by the SAJBD in relation to the Pietersburg Hebrew Congregation Trust. With all affidavits now having been filed, I anticipate that the case will be heard later this year. The various affidavits address the essential issues involved.

10.  I am also aware that a PAIA request has been submitted to the Pietersburg Hebrew Community Trust’s trustees for access to records on a substantially similar basis to my request to the SAJBD. Either way, if the SAJBD is in fact “above board”, this will be established from my court application or the separate PAIA request.

11.  If any of your readers or yourselves wish to know more about these legal proceedings, you are welcome to contact me at [email protected] I am prepared to provide copies of what are now public documents in my case against the SAJBD. But I will not go any further in the circumstances, and will not provide comment. In any event, the affidavits filed provide sufficient information about the issues involved. I will let the court decide what I am entitled to.

12.  I conclude by urging your readers to exercise their democratic right and, when the next round of elections is held in respect of the SAJBD and its constituent bodies, to exercise their right to vote in such a manner as will ensure proper governance of the affairs of the Jewish community in South Africa. Anything less is not conducive to accountability by those who claim to represent the community.

 

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