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Human Rights Violation Hearings
Type HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION HEARINGS
Starting Date 07 August 1996
Location HELDERBERG TYGERBERG
[indistinct] Nomfundo Walasa and Cheryl de la Rey good morning to you and welcome - thanks for coming to give us a context within which we will conduct our hearing today. Before your evidence is presented it is necessary for you to take an affirmation because what you would be saying would eventually form part of the record of the testimony and evidence that was received by the Commission.
Good morning everyone on the 9th of August 1956 tens of thousands of woman gathered outside the Union Buildings in Pretoria - their powerful message to the Prime Minister of the time was - you’ve struck the woman - you’ve struck a rock - you to will be crushed.
Ever since then we have marked the event as National Women’s day - the day when women stated very clearly we too have a role to play in the history of the country. Our struggle for liberation then and today are contribution to nation building.
In 1956 the march was to protest against the carrying of passes, since then woman in all sectors of our society anticipated in the events of our past. They have done so in community organisations - in the labour movements - in the factories - in youth groups - in the educational institutions - in families - in the home.
August the 9th has become a day in the history of our resistance when we both women and men draw attention to the role woman have in liberating our society. Today we stand here having begun the process of rebuilding our society.
In the Western Cape we dedicate this day of public hearings in the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to hearing the voices of woman and we acknowledge the multiplicity of roles played in our past. Why specific focus on woman some may ask - is it not perpetuating differentiation separation which we have had so much in the past. But history shows us that unless we make special efforts to include ourselves in the writing of history our contributions - be that positive or negative - will be forgotten.
We have made significant progress towards the achievement of gender equality in our society since April ’94. But we still have a long way to go. It has been accepted at the highest levels of Government that society is structured in a gender and an unequal way and that we need specific mechanisms to redress this source of inequality.
Therefore just as we need National Women’s Day - so we need the special focus on women today. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission operates in an unequal gender society - therefore it needs to make - or to take specific action to ensure the inclusion of women in the process of uncovering the truth. Too often when we do not undertake specific actions to draw attention to the issues that affect woman, what happens is that men and the experiences of men become the yardstick by which judgements are made.
Structural inequality ensure that what may appear to be free of gender bias is very often not. The equality clause in our new Constitution made specific reference to direct and indirect discrimination thereby acknowledging that if no conscious attempts are made such as we are doing today male experiences will be the dominant point of view - writing history essential to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
We must ensure that our participation in history is seen as important in it’s own right. We know that woman have a relationship to historical events and processes that is different from men. Too often when we read our history books they reflect a distorted view of the events of the past. Through recorded history that which is written woman have been obliterated, [indistinct] and stereotyped.
Events like today mark our attempts to ensure that this never-never happens again. Today we publicly acknowledge that uncovering the truth is a gender process. Woman have participated in our history in multiple ways - today we draw attention to four categories of response from woman.
First we need to note that woman have suffered as direct victims - woman themselves have been tortured - they have been killed. Woman have suffered as indirect victims, people they love have been killed - tortured and detained - our sisters - our mothers - our fathers - our loved ones.
But we also need to recognise that woman have not only been victims - but they have also been perpetrators of human rights abuses. In fact we know that some woman themselves have been the torturers - the spies - the violators - some of them have been direct perpetrators. So woman too have been indirect perpetrators - they have supported those who perpetrate human rights violations.
While some roles played by woman may not be a source of pride for us, we must not ignore the multiplicity of situations woman have occupied in relation to human rights violations. What this means is that depending on where woman were situated they would have experienced human rights violations differently and would have had different consequences.
Today some woman have come forward to tell their stories, others have chosen to remain silent - this is their right and we respect it us such. Telling our stories have consequences too and these consequences are not outside of who we are as men and woman. Woman who tell their stories may face a variety of responses from their family, friends and the communities in which they live. Men and woman and in those communities.
Today we declare our support for you and acknowledge your courage in coming forward telling your story will ensure that woman’s roles are acknowledged in the process of writing our history - that the stereo types and myths are debunked. If national reconciliation is our goal then woman need to be rendered visible in the processes undertaken by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We are please that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recognised the need for particular mechanisms to ensure the woman’s experiences are included in finding out our collective truth. Today is one step in that direction when we hear the particular experiences of woman.
The statement being made today publicly - powerfully and appropriately is that there were sufferings of women during the apartheid years, that were peculiar and specific to woman especially those engendered by woman’s biology such as sexual viability’s, or the threat or potential rape as a matter of torture. Interrogation or dishumanisation - separation from children, threat of abduction of children and death threats.
We need to acknowledge that many woman during the era carried a triple burden - they were victims of indirect - and indirect victims of regime or the system. They were victims of domestic violence and many were victims in their world of work. However, woman’s participation’s towards the struggle for liberation’s have been sidelined or marginilized and often seen [indistinct] to the experience or the participation of man.
History then has documented experiences or suffering has been done or had done this in an ad hoc or add on like manner. Although it is important to acknowledge that layers of suffering mentioned above would have long and term effects for many woman if not acknowledged and addressed in both a gender sensitive and culturally sensitive way.
It is equally important to note that survivors or victims of gross human rights violations can transcend horrific abuses with varying degrees of resilience and success. This is particularly so for those individuals with a strong and coherent set of believes either religious or political. That sustain an over arching sense of purpose and allow them to put the experiences they have into a perspective.
If we were to engage in an exercise that will assist in rendering the woman’s experiences visible or which will help us try to be mindful of the gap with regard to woman’s experiences and their participation in the Truth and Reconciliation process. And also how these experiences could be addressed - we need to firstly look at the definition of gross human rights violations and how this excludes many a woman’s experiences. In this a mindful of the experience of woman who were running during the pass laws in Langa, and who - some of them lost [indistinct] and some of them had to jump you know out of barracks and some were detained with little babies and this in a way I think affected those woman emotionally and physiologically and some of them are in rural communities and they are probably going to be enriched by this whole process.
The definition as it stands leaves out many crimes committed by the [indistinct] which had major psychological implications in the lives of individual woman. Secondly we need to be mindful of the gender specific torture mechanism that solely targeted woman’s sexuality and the sensitivity of broaching this subject in public places- such as the public hearings we are sitting in today.
Often the taboo’s and codes of silences surrounding this specific experiences make it very difficult for woman to come forward and say this is what happened. Thirdly we need to look at the concept of loss and the diverse meaning that it has for individual participants in the process. Loss of pride - loss of dignity - loss of standing - by participating the process most woman’s pain will be rendered venerable and fears of losing their marital status that over the years have hold the pieces of their lives together will be very great.
The question therefore is after showing their weaknesses and venerability’s what will these woman gain from the process and I think most of them are asking that question - what will happen to me. We need to look at the delicate balance of turning weaknesses into strengths because we talk very glibly about the fact that we can show our weaknesses in a way that will render us much more strong later on.
Some woman are sceptical that the process will uncover the wounds that are healing and render them even much more venerable than they stared off with. We need to look at the loss of production because when woman were detained some of them were subjected to fosterilisation and some of them had to have abortions because of what they had suffered. And this - all these things happened during the years of the struggle.
We need to look at cross cultural factors that create boundaries are in terms of entering the process of the TRC or which might present major stumbling blocks during the process of counselling or healing. Some of the factors that I think we need to look very clearly too is the language issue and which makes it enable for many people to access the Commission. And also the inability due to language for the Commissioners or the people who work within the Commission to access people’s testimony because the language differences might affect the whole process of telling the story.
The age and the taboo’s regarding sexual material and the silence embedded in many a cultural around talking about sexuality matters issues of the young versus old, and men versus woman. And also we need to look at particular expression of grief and morning in different cultures and the understanding of this will lead to a greater therapeutic or counselling co-operation and the acknowledge of rituals needed to help people transcend certain phases of their lives being blocked like for instance some of the woman who have testified had said that they could not rest until they find clothing or some of the things that belonged to their loved ones.
The use of symbolism and a [indistinct] as a way of distancing is also needed to be looked at how people speak in matter for [indistinct] in symbols in a way that protects them and also protects the people that are hearing their stories because those things can be used very powerfully.
We need to also find access that will lead us to understand woman’s narrative and find ways of utilising these. The use of natural helping processes like traditional healers, faith healers and herbalist because often people will go to the processes or to the people in their community that they feel could help the most. And these sectors could augment our services as service providers. And also help people not feel alienated from their natural helping processes.
And also we need to gain an understanding of the powerful position explanatory models take in the various cultures that make people gain an understanding of why such and such happened to me at such and such a time. The role played by ancestors and such powerful spirits in the lives of the living and how individuals see their redemption in relation to this ancestors.
The above factors [indistinct] to the fact that we must be aware of the intrinsic nature of gender, race and culture in determining people’s needs from the responses and their responses to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In order to capture all these in the initial and crucial stages, a lot of training and educating of Commissioners, statement takers and all that participate in the process is essential, and also service delivers and these - this training and education needs to happen in a gender and culturally sensitive way.
Statement takers need to be trained in gender sensitive protocols - witnesses and victims needs to be asked the right questions that will allow individuals to reflect their own real experiences. There needs to be an awareness of temptation to collaborate with silence by using generalisation when dealing with embarrassing and often sensitive subjects. And using [indistinct] that will render the experiences not very worthwhile.
And people working in this field need to be briefed on how to speak and in terms of and also to be given communication skills in a way that will allow people to open up. We need to encourage women to speak of their own experiences and not allow either abuses to dominate their testimonies. Often their own pain is not reflected as they busy talking about what had happened to my son, what had happened to my daughter and what had happened to my husband.
And then we loose sight of - because that’s the ticket that they get to the Truth Commission to and to address cultural issues when they arise, those need to be looked at very carefully. And also there needs to be an education about processes and it’s merits. Because women enter the process and say what will I gain from this - I’ve suffered - I’ve had a difficult time - what will I gain from this process.
And in the end we need to find creative ways of making it easier for people to talk and I think that some of those processes mean that some people might find it much easier to talk in groups rather than to talk individual and they need to create such spaces. And the creation of safe spaces for people to talk will be a very - especially women, will be very useful in this exercise.
I think one thing that I’d need to say as a sum up is how I - about three weeks ago I was approached by a woman who needed knowledge about the Truth Commission process. She came to my office and she brought with her a friend and when I asked her - it was a 78 year old woman, whether I should see her alone or I should see her with this woman, she said to me I’d like to be seen with Ms so and so because I cannot see properly and I cannot hear properly.
And the reason why I have brought this person with me is because I want her to be my ears and eyes, because I want to understand exactly what had happened here. I want to come out of here understanding who and how you looked like and all of that.
And I think for me that was very touching and perhaps speaks to the comfortableness that are felt in this forum to be sitting next to Cheryl and sharing this platform with her, because in a way I think it reflects the whole process of the fact that perhaps at the end of this process I will need her to reflect on the processes that has happened here today. Thank you.
Well thank you very much for that, they’ve left without giving me the opportunity to do that, but as they leaving thank you very much for that useful context. That is the background against which the proceedings today should be seen.