Location of missing TRC files remains a mystery

The Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development and the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) are flouting the law and blocking access to our constitutional right to information. That is the gist of a complaint lodged with the Human Rights Commission this week by the Wits University-based South African History Archive.

The complaint relates to the 34 boxes and two folders of documents taken by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development from the offices of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in Cape Town in 1999. Without apparent authority, they had been declared “sensitive” by the then TRC CEO, Dr Biki Minyuku.

Despite assurances in Parliament this month by Minister of Intelligence Lindiwe Sisulu that the documents had not “come to an unhappy end” their whereabouts remains a mystery.
Yet, like the rest of the TRC records, they should be lodged with the national archive in Pretoria. An inquiry into the matter by the national archive and the justice department is still under way.

Sisulu told Parliament on June 7 that the TRC documents were being “assessed now and declassified in line with their status” by an inter-ministerial task team. But she has not said where they are or why the files and folders should be treated differently from other TRC material.

On the same day, deputy information officer JW McKay of the NIA wrote to South African History Archive director Verne Harris, who had lodged a formal request for access to the TRC documents.

McKay explained: “All the TRC documents are the responsibility of the department of justice and are not in the custody of the agency.”

This appeared to contradict the statement last month by NIA spokesperson Lorna Daniels. She insisted that the documents were “technically in the possession of the department of justice, but physically held by the NIA”.

However, according to a senior justice department official interviewed this week, there may be no contradiction. “I think what it all means is that the TRC stuff may be locked away in one of our buildings, but only the NIA has the key,” he said.

Research bodies and academics express anger and disappointment at the level of confusion and the fact that no details have been given about where the apparently missing files might be. Several are understood to have communicated their concern to the Cabinet, but have had no response.

“I am surprised and annoyed at all this confusion,” former TRC investigations unit chief Dumisa Ntsebeza said this week.

“It can only prompt rumour and speculation. So far as the TRC was concerned all those documents, including files relating to uncompleted investigations, should have been lodged with the national archive. There was no need to classify or declassify them.”

Other commissioners and the former head of the TRC research unit, Professor Charles Villa-Vicencio, agreed. All were aware of what the boxes and folders contained since the South African History Archive had managed to obtain a list of contents.

It is this list that has prompted speculation about which powerful political, police or former security figures may have an interest in ensuring that some of the files are not available for public scrutiny. According to TRC investigators who compiled some of them, they may contain useful leads to aspects of the country’s recent past that the TRC did not have the time to follow up.

Stirring particular interest is item seven on the list obtained by the history archive. It reads: “The killing of Pro Jack 4 files and interview with Bongani Jonas.” It is speculated that the files may contain some reference to the payments to hit squads made through the bar account of a local golf club and could point to the reasons for the murders.

Pro Jack was a leading figure in the African National Congress underground in the Cape Town townships and in the defence units in the period leading up to the 1994 election. Rumour has it that his killing was linked to the 1992 murder of Nelson Sithole, the left-wing ANC community leader in the Macassar squatter camp.

Before he was shot in front of several witnesses, Sithole recognised one of his balaclava-clad assassins. Nobody was ever prosecuted.

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

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