Victims' groups mad over reparations

Civil society, former truth and reconciliation commissioners and apartheid victims are spitting mad about proposed regulations gazetted by government last week that would govern reparations to people who suffered apartheid human rights abuses.

In terms of the proposals millions of rands would be disbursed from the President’s Fund to about 20 000 victims—identified by the truth commission—and their families. The specific aim is to pay their children’s education.

The proposals provide for R30 500 a year to be paid to victims with children in grade R, R34 500 to victims with children in grades one to nine and R41 500 to victims with children in grades 10 to 12. Victims with children at university will receive R55 000 a year.

Interest groups complain that the plan excludes many poor victims who did not make statements to the truth commission and that it was formulated without proper consultation.
Marjorie Jobson, director of victims’ support group Khulumani, said that government, and specifically the justice department, “resolutely refuses to work with civil society”.

“We have a database of 65 000 people who suffered gross human rights violations under apartheid. The Military Veterans’ Association has a database of 57 500 people,” Jobson said. “We estimate that about 120 000 people would qualify for reparations. A closed list is unacceptable, even in international human rights law.”

Jobson said that Khulumani had proposed that the treasury pay R2 000 a month for five years in all deserving cases.

“That would cost the state R2-billion a year for five years, not an unreasonable thing to ask. The problem is that the state doesn’t think that people know what’s good for them.” Jobson said the department told her that the reparations proposal was formulated by a joint committee, but would not say who sat on it. Civil society was not involved.

She said there was currently R973-million in the President’s Fund. The fund was established in 2003 under former president Thabo Mbeki, with national treasury contributing R800-million, the Swiss government R200-million and individuals donating the balance. In 2003 it paid out R510-million to 17 000 individuals, Jobson said.

Mary Burton, a former truth commissioner, who contributed money to the President’s Fund during the 1990s, said that the commission had urged the government to hold a summit on its recommendations and to include in it NGOs and civil society. “That never happened. Consultation is the biggest thing that is lacking here,” Burton said.

“The President’s Fund should have convened a national meeting.

“The needs in our society are so enormous that ad hoc distribution is not the way to go. The money left in the fund should be spent on benefiting a broader section of society rather than just the people identified by the TRC.”

Advocate Geoff Budlender, also a contributor, agreed that reparations should be broadened. “I don’t think that making evidence to the TRC should be the only criterion,” he said.

Meanwhile, Andries Letsabo from Parys has lodged a complaint with the public protector about what he deems to be the “failure of the President’s Fund”.

“The money has been lying there for so long,” said Letsabo, who was tortured by police in 1983. “We’ve told them that we’re victims of apartheid and need access. We’re destitute and need shelter and medical assistance.”

Even if he qualified for reparations, the benefits would take the form of education for his children. “But the people need housing, skills and jobs,” he said, pointing out: “Those generals from apartheid, they all received a golden handshake and a pension.” The proposal is open for public comment until June 8.

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