Media misled over missing TRC files

The national archivist and the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development last year deliberately lied to the Mail & Guardian about the whereabouts of 34 boxes of missing Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) documents.

This has emerged on the eve of the handover of the final TRC report to President Thabo Mbeki.

Minutes of a meeting held at the National Archives in Pretoria on April 26 last year make it clear that it was decided to “deal with the media” by issuing a statement that an investigation into the whereabouts of the documents had been launched.

But there was no need for an investigation, because the documents were already known to be “save [sic] in the offices of the minister responsible for the NIA [National Intelligence Agency]”.

At the April 26 meeting it was noted that they had been seen by senior justice department official John Bacon and “a NIA representative”.

But a statement was later released under the names of national archivist Graham Dominy and justice department information officer David Porogo. The statement noted that an investigation had been launched. It involved the NIA, the justice department and the National Archives.

Earlier that month Minister of Intelligence Lindiwe Sisulu had responded in writing to inquiries about the missing documents, stating that they “are in the safekeeping of the Department of Justice”. She at no time indicated that she knew that the documents, which include files on the murders of Cape Town activist Pro Jack and African National Congress representative in France Dulcie September, were being kept, apparently illegally, in her office.

The role of the NIA, she said, “is to advise the Department of Justice regarding its [the documents’] appropriate classification before they are forwarded to the National Archives”.

But there is also no apparent legal provision for the NIA to classify any of the documents released by the TRC.

“In fact, they are impugning the integrity of the TRC and the commissioners by implying that we irresponsibly released documents that should have remained confidential,” said former TRC investigations unit head Dumisa Ntsebeza.

Other commissioners have also criticised the assumption by the NIA that it has the right to classify documentation released by the TRC.

After the main TRC business had been completed in 1999, the 34 boxes and two files of documents that formed the basis of enquiries by the M&G were suddenly labelled “sensitive” by former TRC CEO Biki Minyuku.

“And he had absolutely no authority to make such a classification,” said Ntsebeza.

“As our report states, one of the key aspects of the commission’s work has been its commitment to transparency and public scrutiny.”

Clarification was requested from the intelligence services ministry, especially about the whereabouts of the documents. Ministry spokesperson Lorna Daniels replied in writing: “Please note that the documents in question are in a safe place — as previously indicated. Unfortunately I am not in a position to reveal its [sic] exact location.”

She said that the “documents in question are receiving the attention of the classification and declassification review committee”.

But Dominy maintained this week that the “extremely protracted and complex” investigation had been “subsumed into the work” of the newly formed committee established to classify and declassify official documents.

In an e-mail marked “without prejudice” he said allegations that he had deliberately lied were “without foundation”. It was a matter of fact that an investigation was under way and “none of the remarks that you allege were made at an unspecified meeting contradict these facts in any way”.

Porogo, who chaired the meeting last year where it was decided to mislead the media, claimed that “the matter is sub judice”. He referred to a case before the Pretoria Supreme Court, which does not relate to the whereabouts of the documents.

“All I can say is that it is all very worrying,” said South African history archive director, Verne Harris, who has been trying for more than three years to gain access to some of the TRC documentation.

Terry Bell is the author of Unfinished Business: South Africa, Apartheid & Truth



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