Address the plight of Apartheid-era victims of gross violations

Khulumani endorses Advocate Ntsebeza’s 21 June 2013 call for political will to address the plight of Apartheid-era victims of gross violations

Khulumani Support Group agrees with Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza’s statement that government has failed the victims of apartheid.

In a radio interview on SAfm on 21 June 2013, following his keynote address to the LAND DIVIDED Conference, held at the University of Cape Town last week on the anniversary of the Native Lands Act of 1913, Advocate Ntsebeza stated that there had been a shameful lack of political will to deal with the issues of reparations for the apartheid-era victims of gross human rights violations. He reminded the nation that 10 years have passed since the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was handed over to government on Human Rights Day, 21 March 2003.

Khulumani Support Group, the national membership organisation of victims and survivors of these gross human rights violations, concurs with his contention. However, Advocate Ntsebeza limited his statement to victims “identified by the TRC”. Failure of government to provide the same remedies to all victims who suffered the harms that the TRC included in its mandate is a continuing sore in our national psyche and a major flaw in South Africa’s transition.

The apparent determination of the Department of Justice to adhere to an entirely arbitrary bureaucratic decision to limit reparations to only those individuals who managed to secure recognition by the TRC in its severely limited time frame of two years for the taking of victim statements, remains the most serious aspect of South Africa’s unfinished business.

Khulumani’s legal advisors can find no legal justification for this situation in the Act that led to the establishment of the TRC, the National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995. The outcome of this bureaucratic decision, which could be reversed if the president and his Cabinet had the political will to transform this situation, is one of gross injustice – of justice untransformed by its failure to advocate for the application of the same rules to all persons who suffered similar harms. The situation recreates the apartheid experience of many thousands of South Africans of being entirely subject to arbitrary bureaucratic regulations and their implementation.

Khulumani’s national membership has asserted, WE WILL NEVER GIVE UP on the issue of demanding a fair and non-discriminatory solution to this situation. Despite 10 years of concerted efforts to engage the Department of Justice with practical and inclusive proposals that will facilitate the recognition of all those who suffered similar harms, the TRC Unit, under the leadership of its Chief Operations Officer, Dr Khotso de Wee, has ignored all the engagements and all the proposals presented to it up until the present. Khulumani’s engagements with the department under his leadership could be characterised as a ‘dialogue with the deaf’ because of the intransigence of the department in respect of the necessary recognition and acknowledgement of the harms suffered by all victims of gross human rights violations during apartheid.

Khulumani appeals to the minister of justice and his deputy to show leadership in transforming this situation. Khulumani is still awaiting a response to its letter written in March 2013 by its lawyers to Minister Jeff Radebe and his Deputy, Andries Nel.The letter requested an urgent meeting with the minister and his deputy. To date, Khulumani’s lawyers have received no written response and there has been no meeting at this level to discuss a plan to address the injustice of the situation.

In the meantime, Khotso de Wee continues to be given airtime to appear on radio and television to repeat his position that he believes the TRC Unit is fulfilling its mandate. Once again, on 21 June 2013, in a radio interview, De Wee reported that, of the 16 000 victims “identified” by the TRC, only about 60 persons had still to be traced and paid their once-off reparation grant of R30 000. He announced that, once these people had been paid, the issue of individual reparations would have been completed.

While the matter may have been completed for De Wee, the matter is far from resolved for thousands of people who sustained the same harms as those who are receiving this limited reparations package. No amount of repetitive argument by De Wee in the media or limited presentations to the Portfolio Committee on Justice in Parliament in which De Wee withholds information on the submissions he has received from victims and their organisations and partners since the TRC Unit came into operation in 2005, will make the issue go away.

Among Khulumani’s membership of some 80 000 victims and survivors are many of the 16 000 individuals identified by the TRC, for whom De Wee assumes some responsibility. But government’s intransigence means nearly 70 000 victims remain completely sidelined and ignored by the state, despite there being many legitimate reasons why so many were not able to engage the TRC.

If the TRC was to have been the bridge between a past characterised by deep conflict to a future based on respect for human dignity and fundamental human rights, this aspiration is far from having been met in South Africa with so many not yet having been provided with the means of stepping onto the bridge through the assistance provided by reparations. The TRC pointed to the necessity of resources being needed to contribute to this possibility. The TRC was an opening event in a process that Khulumani Support Group has been taking forward resolutely despite the resistance of the state.

It is time for the Department of Justice to give up its present stance and to work on putting systems in place to deal with the challenge. It is time for the Office of the President, through its Presidential Hotline, to stop fobbing off legitimate victims who call in to remind the president of this failure, that they should seek remedies from within local branches of the ANC, as is currently happening. Reparations are not a remedy with a political party tag.

Across the world, best practices are emerging related to dealing with historical crimes including setting up ongoing victim registration processes. Sadly, the South African government is bucking that trend and creating a nation that avoids its obligations to provide effective remedies to thousands of people who suffered political assassinations; who “disappeared”; who were indiscriminately shot at; who were detained without trial; who were arbitrarily held in solitary confinement for extended periods; and who were tortured.

On 26 June, International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, Khulumani calls on the country’s political leadership to fulfil its obligations with respect to reparations for gross human rights violations and to find the political will to address the plight of all apartheid-era victims of gross human rights violations.

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