Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

The unfinished business of the TRC

Acting on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), in 2003 the President’s Fund was set up to provide comprehensive reparations programmes for victims of apartheid crimes. It was intended to restore and repair the damaged lives of those who stood for justice against the apartheid regime. This was to be done through financial grants, which was what was requested by TRC participants. The TRC recommended that the money be given to recipients annually, over a period of five years.

Bonginkosi Makhubu, a member of Khulumani Support Group, is one of the many survivors in desperate need of the money held by the fund. Makhubu was shot by apartheid police. One of the bullets lodged in his head and has caused disabilities, including the functionality of the left side of his body. The bullets that lodged in his body were removed, but doctors have told him the one in his head is too risky to remove as it could cause his death.

Following his participation in the TRC and having been recognised as one of the identified victims, he received a R30 000 once-off reparations grant, only one quarter of the amount recommended by the TRC, owing to former President Thabo Mbeki’s failure to wholeheartedly embrace the TRC’s recommendations on what was required to provide the restoration of peoples’ dignity.

Because Makhubu has not been able to work from the time he was shot, he still lives with his family. He has a child with his former wife, who left him because of his condition. All these consequences were a result of his injuries at the hands of the brutal police, who were part of a system created to dehumanise black people in the most cruel of ways.

For people like Makhubu, the President’s Fund means a way to provide education for their children. Accessing the entire reparation package by the TRC would mean access to housing and healthcare too, and this is what the President’s Fund must be protected to provide.

Despite this, 2010 saw the beginning of dubious regulations for the fund get underway, regulations that would see the funds used to bail out failing municipalities – many bankrupted through unauthorised and irregular expenditure by officials – and for infrastructure for which national and provincial government carry responsibility.

Facing penalties for not having timeously spent the money meant for survivors, the Department of Justice and Correctional Services planned to finalise the regulations that would allow them to divert the money to infrastructure projects in municipalities (where Integrated Developing Planning (IDP) processes are part of the responsibilities of municipal officials), instead of following through the plans to redress those affected by the human rights violations of the apartheid regime.

It is unclear whether or not these regulations have been finalised, as had been asserted by the department’s director general, but the implementation of these regulations would require the signatures of both President Jacob Zuma and Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha to sign off on them.

A pressure campaign has been launched by Amandla.Mobi, calling on South Africans to appeal to stop the conflation of reparations with development. The state has been implementing a programme of development since 1994. The President’s Fund is the only money set aside for repairing the lives of victims of past atrocities.

In an interview with Talk Radio 702’s John Robbie, the DOJCD alleged that “reparations have been paid to families identified by the TRC and no funds have been plundered”. However, they failed to mention that they speak only of a closed list of victims who had the resources to go and give statements to the TRC. The approximately 100 000 victims of these crimes who have been left out, are those whose needs are the most extreme and urgent. They’ve been left out on the basis of purely arbitrary administrative factors. While the DOJCD refuses to consider the legitimacy of these victims, other government departments have made special provisions for the roughly 15 000 individuals who joined underground military organisations. Such distortions in access to justice are very difficult to understand.

Records reveal that some 27 000 political detainees were brutally tortured by apartheid agents. Torture has amongst the most devastating consequences for victims and their families. The state has never provided any rehabilitation programme for torture survivors from apartheid. Their limited list of reparations beneficiaries comprises 16 800 individuals – less than the known number of persons who were tortured during apartheid.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his foreword to the TRC report explains that the report could only offer a perspective on the truth about a past that is more extensive and more complex than any one commission could, in two-and-a-half years, have hoped to capture. He has consistently explained that the TRC was envisaged as a beginning to work that needs to be taken forward.

He explained that the truth commission was built on the principle that evidence and information about our past will continue to emerge and most importantly, that “we cannot simply forget the past and ‘let bygones be bygones’ because this further victimises victims by denying their awful experiences. Acknowledgement of violations restores the dignity and identity of victims and their sense of self is affirmed. This is a critical component of healing”.

To date the DOJCD has failed to acknowledge that the comprehensive reparations package envisioned by the TRC included specialist healthcare to ensure that the grant received would be used to repair their lives, rather than having to choose between meeting their medical needs or trying to improve their circumstances.

The DOJCD’s response to victims who have come forward over the years, is a blatant contradiction of the very same TRC they are now trying so hard to invoke.

It is clear that there are a number of individuals in the DOJCD who are determined to ensure that the regulations are passed. One can only hope that the minister and president do not dismiss over 90 000 victims calling for them not to be passed, as well as the hundreds of citizens standing in solidarity with them.

On Saturday October 18 2014, radio station SAFM carried a part of President Zuma’s speech from earlier that week in which he states that “states cannot be the sole actors in healing the wounds after conflict”. The state needs to work with civil society. This speech could not have been timelier, given the intransigence of the DOJCD to working with civil society to deal with this “unfinished business”.

Read more on where the money for apartheid victims is actually going.

Image – A Khulumani support group banner with the demands of apartheid victims. Image courtesy of Khulumani.

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