Apartheid victims need ‘holistic’ help

Former Truth and Reconciliation commissioners have expressed concern about the once-off payment being disbursed as final reparations to victims of apartheid identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This week the government starts disbursing the final payment of about R30 000 to each of the identified 18 000 victims.

The final reparation payment follows Parliament’s adoption of the government’s recommendations on the TRC report, which were presented to the House by President Thabo Mbeki in April.

Former TRC commissioners Hlengiwe Mkhize and Yasmin Sooka have called for a more “holistic” approach to reparations, as embodied in the TRC reparation policy. Sooka pointed out that several victims were still in need of medical treatment, or their children were in need of financial assistance to complete their education. “There is no way R 30 000 can cover that. One would have thought the government would have put together a comprehensive package to cover all of the issues relating to victims.”

She suggested a medical card and bursaries — all of which are contained in the TRC’s recommendations — as part of the package.

“Reparations are not only about money; it is internationally accepted that they are the state’s acknowledgement of wrongdoing to a victim. They embody the recognition that a victim is an individual who suffered harm and is also part of a family and a member of a society.”

Mkhize pointed out that reparations for the victims should be considered in the context of the amnesty granted to the perpetrators, which, she said, was a swift process.

She said the amnesty process smacks of being politically expedient, particularly with what seems to be a lack of political leadership in fighting for the rights of those bereft by apartheid.

“Look at the victims’ point of view — to them the perpetrators still have their jobs and their perks, while [victims] are still where they were,” added Sooka. According to Mkhize there has to be a social contract between the government and victims to ensure there is accountability.

Ministry of justice spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago asked why the former commissioners had not raised their concerns when the recommendations were before Parliament. He said the final payment should not be taken out of context. Since 1994 the government had provided electricity and schools for several million formerly disadvantaged people and continues to do so. “We realise that no amount of money can take away the victims’ pain,” he added.

In response to this Sooka and Mkhize contend that they did not need to raise their concerns with Parliament as their views are properly encapsulated in the TRC’s reparation policy, which was carefully developed in consultation with experts knowledgeable about issues impacting on the lives of victims, having both a long- and short-term perspective.

Sooka and Mkhize are careful to point out that “reparations should not be confused with development. Every citizen is entitled to access development through the state and reparations are aimed at acknowledging wrongdoing to an individual. It is about repairing the damage carried out through the agency of the state and non-state actors involved in conflict.

“While it cannot bring back the dead or take away the pain, it can ease the discomfort of poverty and the loss of a loved one who would have made an economic difference in the lives of those left behind.”

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