The justice department confirmed late on Saturday the families of the victims will no longer receive money to attend commission hearings, adding there was no legal requirement for them to provide the families with financial assistance to oversee the hearings as they were not witnesses in the case.
“In as much as we are sympathetic to the families and understand their desire to attend the proceedings, we cannot finance their attendance as that is not covered by any legislative framework that governs the work of the commission,” spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said a statement.
“Regulations applicable to the commission make provision for legal assistance to be afforded to any such witness whose evidence may be relevant to the terms of reference of the commission, and families will be entitled to same assistance if they participate as witnesses,” the statement said.
Mhaga said the families were given funds to attend the first session of the inquiry was “mainly based on humanitarian basis” so that they would understand the need for the inquiry.
“The department took a decision to afford financial assistance for family members to attend the first session of the inquiry, and this was with a view to afford them to be present when the commission commences with the inquiry, which was planned to be preceded by a statement of sympathy to the families Further attendance of the inquiry would be left to the choice of the families themselves … There is no legal basis on which the attendance of the family members or representatives can be sustained on state expense.”
Non-profit organisation the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution called for the department to reverse its decision, or postpone the commission of inquiry into the incident that left 44 people dead.
Mhaga said to the Mail & Guardian on Saturday: “It has never happened in the history of South Africa that the department has paid for family members to watch hearing proceedings. So why are we being vilified for doing this?”
The department also said some of families requested they be given the money that would be used to fly them from the Eastern Cape to Rustenburg rather be given to them for food to feed their families.