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Type Children's Hearings
Starting Date 12 June 1997
Names MS GRACA MACHEL
Can somebody indicate where they are? Are they in the front or in the back? In the corner over there, Mrs Seqwati Pitso is handing them out, so if you want to please take one of those boxes. English will be on 2, Afrikaans, 1, Sotho is on 4. Thank you very much.
Ladies and gentlemen, can I welcome you warmly to this hearing on children and youth. Before I proceed, I want to welcome the Wits choral grouping, we would like to thank them from the TRC's side for coming here this morning to open the proceedings with a song and perhaps they could start off.
DR FAZEL: Thank you Prof Meiring. Can I introduce the panel before I start the rest of the proceedings. On my extreme left is Prof Piet Meiring, who is a member of the Reparations and Rehabilitations Committee.
Next to him is Ms Joyce Seroke, who is a member of the Human Rights Violations Committee. Next to Joyce is Mr Wynand Malan, who is also a member of the Human Rights Violations Committee. On my immediate left is Ms Hlengiwe Mhkize, a member of the Human Rights Violations Committee. On my right hand side is Mr Tom Manthata, a member of the Reparations and Rehabilitation Committee, and I am Fazel Randera, also on the Human Rights Violations Committee.
This is a special hearing dedicated to children and youth. It is appropriate that we are holding it in the month of June because four days from now, we will be celebrating June, 16 - an uprising in Soweto which many people would argue contributed largely to where we are today.
The Commission has been accused of always looking at the past and I think this hearing in a sense, tries to go beyond the past because what we also argue in the Commission and that is part of our mandate, is that the Commission is a mirror and a window on the future and today, you will be hearing submissions from different groupings, human rights, NGO's, experts in the field and of course most importantly the victims, witnesses themselves, who have come forward to talk about what happened to them.
As we listen to their stories, I would like us to reflect because sometimes when we look at the conflicts, we think about a shooting, a killing, a torture, but there were other very important aspects of this conflict that took place.
In a sense what we saw was destabilisation of communities internally to South Africa and externally to South Africa. In many respects we live with the legacies of that destabilisation that took place.
If we just think about what happened inside the country where thousands of families were uprooted, where children had to leave their homes, young people had to leave their homes and the effects of all that, we can come to realise the enormity of the problem that we are facing.
If we look at what happened outside our borders, I remember - I know Mrs Machel is in the audience, in 1991 when we went on a delegation to meet up with - excuse me, I should have announced that everybody should put their cellphones off, including Dr Randera - when we went to Maputu to meet up with the ANC Health Committee, Mrs Machel was the keynote speaker at that time, and she described clearly, vividly what had gone previously as far as the government setting up primary health care clinics throughout the country, and with the destabilisation and the war that ensued in that country, all those facilities, most of those facilities were destroyed.
And again the impact of that on those communities, was enormous and we need to think about, as we listen to the stories today, we need to realise how important that was as well. Also just remember that the resources that went into arming the State machinery in this country, outside the country, could have been used for other purposes and that didn't happen and as a result again, communities suffered because of that.
I want to extend a very warm welcome to Mrs Machel and as she comes up to the platform to talk to us about the work that she and her Committee has been doing, I would just like to say a few words. In 1993, the Secretary General requested the appointment of an expert to study the impact of armed conflict on children. This was a global study that was done, Mrs Machel was chosen as that expert. Recently that report has been published, I am sure some of you have had seem that report and Mrs Machel is going to speak to that report and her own experiences. Thank you Mrs Machel. Chairperson, I hand over to you.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you. Before we give a special welcome to Mrs Machel, I would like to welcome young people, kids from (indistinct) and King Edward. We are pleased to have you here, this is a special day for young people of this country to get an opportunity of thinking about what other young people have gone through in the process of transforming the country. So you are welcome.
I don't know whether I should welcome you Peter as well. I didn't understand what was going on. Really in welcoming Mrs Machel, maybe just to add what our Regional Convenor, Dr Randera has said, for us as a Commission when we decided to have the children's hearings, we debated the issue very, very carefully as to whether do we really need this, but at the time when the Commission decided to have the hearings, our objectives were clear. We wanted to be able to create an opportunity for the people of this country to be able to articulate what went wrong, especially what was child specific.
So in welcoming you, we are pleased to have you as a person who is in a position to give a global perspective in struggling with these issues. When people are talking about childrens' exposure to armed conflict or in our terminology, looking at child specific human rights issues, we need to give people an opportunity to be able to take a position as to what is it that they are talking about.
And to be able to, especially for young people, the schools are here, to be able to grabble with issues, child specific practices which fall under the category of human rights violations, so we have given you that responsibility to help us to locate this within the international community and hopefully to fit in our local submissions within your framework as well. So you are welcome.
MS MACHEL: Thank you. Well, I am very honoured today to be able to share with you some of the lessons and experiences and somehow the great pain I have to go through about two and a half years, when the Secretary General asked me to undertake what was known in the history of the UN as the Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children.
The reason why I was appointed, are indeed very bad reasons. It is because I am Mozambiqan, so I come from a country which have gone through a very painful process more than a decade. The Secretary General knew that I had the experience myself of dealing with children victims of war.
So I was a bad reference, and because of that I was chosen to lead this process. But I decided that we should transform this maybe as a good reason. Being that for the first time we will have the opportunity to give to those who have been victims, to outline what they have gone through and more than that, to help the international community to shape a new frame of how to deal with these problems.
So I am not sure whether I managed to do that, but I tried to put myself in the position of the children of Mozambique and from that, to broaden that to the children of the world who have suffered from conflict. My responsibility was to try to give them a voice and to give them a face.
So I am very pleased that South Africa is probably, if it is not the first, but among the first countries to implement one of the recommendations we have made to the United Nations, to say give a face to children. Give visibility to children. And give priority to children.
I my experience, this is one of the few experiences where children will be given a platform so that the nation, and even the international community will have to sit and listen. In other words, we have moved from the kind of things in which we adults would try to speak on behalf of children, and we don't acknowledge their rights to participate in debate, in the shaping of what is their lives, what is their future.
So I am glad that this morning, I will not only speak to South Africans, but I particularly try to bring experiences of children from around the world, some of them whom I have managed to interact with. But before that, maybe I will outline some of the general conclusions we have come to.
You may know that at the beginning of this century, when most of the conflicts were inter-State, only about 10 percent of casualties were civilians, 90 percent of casualties were soldiers. But what we have learnt recently is that in the type of conflict which I call internal conflict, like the one that took place in this country, we witnessed a shift, a complete shift. 90 Percent of casualties are civilians and only 10 percent are soldiers. In other terms, it means that wars nowadays are against civilians, are against defenceless people in villages, in streets, in schools, everywhere. But people who are not necessarily part of institutions.
And this has provoked two major problems. The change of the patterns of conflict has also resulted in victimisation of the most vulnerable of the civilians. You might have heard that half of refugees in the world, are children.
And about the rest of them, will be mostly women, elderly and of course some also, some men. But women and children became the most groups, social groups which are affected by the type of conflict we face today.
Another aspect is that in these conflicts, nothing, but absolutely nothing is spared. You break the boundaries of what is sacred, what is untouchable. In these conflicts nothing is sacred, nothing is untouchable.
Human beings themselves are the first target. And I will describe about children, but families are disrupted. Places of worship like churches, are no longer respected. Even sources of water, crops, schools, clinics, whatever is found, it is a target and that is why this war is against whatever is the indication of organised life.
In the past children were found where caught up in terms of what we can call cross-fire. So it was accidental. No matter how many there were killed, but it was accidental, they were not the targets. But in the conflicts of the recent decades, children are deliberately targeted for killings and you will ask why?
Some people would even argue that maybe it is not so targeted. A child is seen as a continuation of the other sides, because most of these conflicts are ethnic or they are religious. Of course the reasons are much more deep than those, but apparently they seem to be ethnic.
So when you target the children of the other side, you are eliminating the future enemy who would be able to attack you. So in the process of kind of ethnic cleansing, it is important to eliminate those who tomorrow can challenge you in powersharing.
But more than that, is that if you want to touch and to break the moral of the community you are attacking, then you have to attack what is most precious to them. And in your view as adults, if they kill your child, you become completely disturbed and you will never be the same again.
So there were two things, one is what they represent in future, but it is how they are powerful means of attacking the adults in their emotional stability and even in their capacity to resist. So children are being targeted.
I can give examples, here in South Africa, you know schools were deliberately attacked and children were killed, and it was not by chance. In Mozambique it happened countless times, schools were deliberately attacked, and they knew that in those schools there were primary school children of six, seven, eight, ten years. So there is no confusion there, it is deliberate.
We found this in all the places we have gone through. You have heard about stories in Ruwanda, but we found it in Gambodje, we found it in Bosnia, we found it in Lebanon. Children as a specific target, but also sometimes children are specifically target for maiming, it is even more sadistic. Not to kill them, but just to make them disabled.
And they become a problem for the family and the community, for the rest of their lives. So the suffering is even constant, it is permanent, because that child will be a reminder of what the conflict, even when the conflict is over, this child will come to be a problem for its family and the community, so maiming is another specific objective of how to reach the enemy the other side.
You also know that in many countries, land mines are a big problem. Here in South Africa I think we are fortunate, we don't have so much of that problem. But in the region in the other parts of the world, land mines are targeting civilians, and particularly of course they target children and women.
Other ways of targeting children is detention in torture. Children are suspected of being spies as they call them, they want to take information from them and then detention and torture. We have the worst cases, we have witnessed during this study is in Ruwanda.
I visited a prison where it was impossible to move, because it was so packed and I said I want to see children and they were packed in a very small, very, very small room as an attempt to separate them from adults.
And of course you can imagine a child of 13, one of them I spoke to him, I said why are you here and he said, I killed. I said how did you kill and why did you kill? I said why did you kill and he said because he was, this child is a Hooto so he killed Tootsies. I said but aren't they, those people were not your neighbours for instance, or your neighbours or at school, and he said yes, until the day that I did not know that they were my enemies.
This is an example of another dimension of targeting children, it is propaganda. It is how you take a child who has lived with his colleagues, with his friends, with his neighbours, then you introduce a new element of suspicion to say if you don't kill him, he will kill you.
And a child will know no boundary in this, he will do whatever and that happened in Ruwanda, that happened in Bosnia. Children killing their friends, killing their neighbours, their colleagues in schools.
Why is it so easy to do that? It is because the personality of a child is still in development and whatever you want to make of a child, you can make it if you infuse ideals and principles which can motivate the child to respect nothing in life.
I will come back to this later, but when you have a child who is unable to respect his friend, you can imagine how deep the crisis has come. Because children can communicate even without speaking the same language. We adults cannot do that, but children can. They know how to develop solidarity, even without speaking the same language.
One of the targeting of children also is to make them witness atrocities. Witnessing their own parents being killed in a very brutal way. And when that happens, it means that that child is shattered from inside and it can produce two things. One is a strong sense of revenge. This child will live the rest of his or her life saying, I have to revenge. So the purpose of life has been completely deviated, not to be himself, but he will live for revenge.
But it can also produce another thing, it is that this child will never be able to reconcile and to understand the meaning of normal life. It will be traumatised from inside and will become a weak person, because he cannot reconcile with what he has witnessed.
But the worst of targeting of children is what I am coming to now. It is to take children to participate themselves in atrocities. You have heard about the so-called child soldiers. It is a phenomena which is wide-spread all over the world in places. I think you have heard what is happening in Sri Lanka today.
It means to transfer the conflict of today, to two or three generations which will come. When you instrumentalise children of seven, six and even ten years, you can be sure that they will find it very difficult during the rest of their lives, to live without violence. They will find it very difficult to be I mean, stable adults, to be parents.
And of course if they have difficulties in parenting, their children also will suffer for the effects of the conflict today. So more than themselves, to use them as instruments, is a way of planting the seeds of this conflict for the time to come. That is why today we are sitting here to discuss reconciliation and reparation.
So the diabolic kind of conflicts in targeting children to instrumentalise them, it means to transfer, to plant and to transfer this conflict to be dealt with maybe 50 years later. I happen to have spoken to somebody who had been a child at the time of the end of the second world war.
So we must be aware that even when we seem to have reached a kind of normality in our life, we have to know how do we bring these things to deal with, in a constructive way so that we are not going to come much later in different capacities.
But participation of children in atrocities is the worst of really breaking the boundaries of respect of human life. It is no wonder that in this country, we are having very high rates of criminality. Some people can just because they want a car, or because they want a cellphone, they can kill. It doesn't make sense.
Because yes, you can attack somebody and take his cellphone, but you don't need to kill him. Why is it that it became so normal for me to get a cellphone, I have to kill the owner of the cellphone, it is exactly because these boundaries of what is the meaning and the value of human life, has been broken completely.
Anything is worth a human life and this is probably one of the most difficult problems we have to readdress is how do you bring back our youngsters to understand the value of human life, to respect it, to cherish human life.
But they came to this place exactly because of what has happened to them some time ago and they lost that sense. One of the ways of targeting children, which was very clear in Bosnia is to use education as a means of divide. It his country also it did happen.
The Bantu education and the separation of people in races and even in tribes, it has entrenched discrimination in the minds of people from the age when they are really very young, and they grew up looking at themselves as White, and even not only to be White, as Afrikaner, as English speaking, as Portuguese speaking, even amongst Whites.
The normal thing would be to say I am South African, but it is so entrenched and it has become so normal. We deal with this as if it is a normal thing. But every one in this country grew and developed with the perception of what makes him different from others, and not on the basis of what make us equal.
To develop the platform of common ground. We were so bombarded by this kind of division and discrimination that now our perception is that I am an African and he is White and he is Indian and that one is - and that amongst African, he is Xhoza, Zulu and never, in the basis of we belong to the same nation, we have the same origin and we have the same destiny.
They look at themselves as Muslim, as Croates and whatever and they find it very, very difficult to chancily and to come together and to accept even to live together. But this is infused in the minds and the ways of living, slowly step by step and then it becomes culture.
I think one of the challenges that we have is how do we overcome this culture. And we accept ourselves as sons and daughters of the same nation in which we have these meaning of being a South African.
Attacking not only individuals in the family, but creating a situation in which fathers, mothers and children will never be able to look at each other with pride. When you attack a family and you humiliate the head of the family in the presence of his wife and his children, you destroy the sense of a protective force which exists in the family.
And the members of the family they will have touched the ground of the sense of powerlessness, is that what you say - yes. But they even do worse - rape and sexual violence is used as a means to humiliate everyone amongst the family.
Raping women and girls in the presence of the rest of the members of the family and even in the presence of neighbours. It means that woman and that girl will never be able to look at his father and his brother the same way and they also will find it very difficult to look at her.
In African culture, coming to this, the woman is the mother of the family, is a kind of how do I say, is the depository of what is the dignity of the family. And women become, that is why in our culture, women were protected from participating in whatever could be violence.
Women could not touch blood in our culture, that is why they were given a rear guard position, because whatever is culture and values has to be protected by them. So they could never touch what is considered as blood in conflict.
This is one way they used this, and rape is a common feature of all the countries we have gone through. The study recommended that only in the case of Bosnia and Ruwanda, it had been considered a war crime and we said no, now it should be a war crime in any circumstances in which a conflict is taking place, when rape is used as a weapon of war.
But we also see, I mean forms of disruption of family life in detention of parents and where you leave children alone. I don't need to give examples in this country. But you also have another experience in this country, it is the migrant labour Act.
Many men were obliged to come and live around Johannesburg because of the mining industry, right? And sometimes we just take this as for granted, but it means that hundreds, if it is not millions of families they never had a normal family life, with the husband and mother and the children together.
Children grew up in a situation where they see the father as a visitor, he comes in and out, but he is not the head of the family and of course he has no authority. I mean to give guidance to his children and these children will grow only and the children of their mother, where the father is just someone who becomes so frustrated many times, he will stay there, he will drink, but he has no demurral authority to bring up his own children.
But the disruption of family life also has been achieved through the massive displacement of people. I don't know how far this problem is, but in many other countries, displacement and refugees has provoked situations where you have children and parents lost from one another in the confusion of the conflict.
Of course not talking of uprooting them from their place of origin and culturally where they are able to live together as a family, but displacement and refugees in which I have referred already, the majority of refugees and displaced, are children. It means these children are separated from their families.
It is education. Most children lose the opportunity to attend a school and no one can measure what it means to lose an opportunity to develop your intellect as you could have done it. If you just grow illiterate, because someone decided that you shouldn't have an opportunity to open up, to use science as an instrument of living better, we have found that in every country in conflict, not only because schools are burnt and destroyed, but also because of deviation of resources through war, then you have millions of children who are left out of school and of course then they are very easy to find in the streets.
Health. You have millions of children who never have an opportunity to see a Doctor, to be treated and of course the rates of infant mortality and preventable disease increase dramatically in situations of conflict as a direct effect of that situation.
I would say that in a situation of conflict actually, every right of a child is at risk. It is violated. So if we are to come to discuss, how do we discuss reconciliation, prevention and reparation which is the mandate of this Commission.
But then the consequences of this, it may mean restructuring not only from laws to how do you organise services and how you build capacities, and how you deal with this, coming not only at the institutional level as the Minister of Education, the Minister of Health, the Minister of Social Welfare, Justice and economic opportunities, but even going to see how do we reinforce the family life.
How do we help families to come together and to exercise the protective role families need to give to children. In other terms, how to give every child a shelter in the guard of a protective family? We have rates of street children in this country which are not so small and in every country which has gone through an experience like this, you will find the same situation.
But also we need to give them opportunities for education. It may not be lost completely, but education in these cases, it does not mean only the possibility to go back to school. It is important to go to school, to have training so that they can self-employ themselves, if it is possible. But also it is the content of education we get.
How do you give back a call of values in which not only did children respect human life, but also organised life which has been disrupted and at the same time, they can build a community sense of belonging to a family, to a community, to the nation.
How do you help these children to live within a certain kind of principles and norms, social norms which are going to readdress the kind of deviations in their personalities and perceptions which has been developed for many years.
Then we can also say is it possible to do this and repair completely and even in the terms of, I know this is very controversial, people are discussing in this country whether you can have reconciliation without justice, when I say justice, I am not talking of how to take the perpetrators to court, no, it is how do you build a just system in the way of living in which people will feel that all of us together as a nation, we are building a society in which justice prevails.
It is not possible, I don't think in any case of the countries I have visited, you can exercise the kind of individual justice. It is completely unrealistic, because the depth of damage is so big. It reaches almost everybody.
How to debate this, I don't know. Some of the children and youngsters will say after all this I am especially entitled to have a kind of reparation, that is correct. You can do it, but the fact is how many children and youngsters will be able to bring them to the knowledge of every one of us to repay.
We will have some cases in which we will be able to deal with, and then the point is how through these, we try to reach a kind of responding to the needs of the thousands or millions of those who will not be able to come to light and to speak individually.
But I am also concerned to see how the judiciary system takes care of children who commits any kind of infractions. Which in many cases are related to their backgrounds. In each case it is always important to look what is the background of the family and what is the background of upbringing of this child.
How do we take that into account. But prevention is mostly important in saying how do we deal with the past so that the future is not going to have a process of coming back with a different face or with different ways, but how do we make sure that never, never again in this country, in this region actually I can say, how do we make sure that this is not going to happen again?
Is it that a citizen, an individual, a child, a woman, a man be humiliated or be brutalised as it happened. The challenge I have no indications of how to do that, but I think far beyond the mandates of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, this is a debate which has to take place in various levels. How to make sure that this does not happen again.
So we accept that we are still unhealthy society as a result of our recent history, but if we are to become healthy, the priority of how to concentrate on healing, in repairing and build a healthy future, it depends on what we are going to do to our children.
Again, I finalise my remarks saying give your children a voice, the right to speak out. Give your children the right to have a visibility, not the statistics to say you have how many children, how many youngsters, but to have a face and to have a visibility and finally to have priority in whatever is as economic and social development.
MS MKHIZE: Thank you. Thank you to your Mrs Machel. I just want to say thank you very much. I should think you have assisted many young people out there by articulating and naming some of the experiences which they might be struggling with and not knowing how to address them.
I remember as a Commission when we finally decided to have children and youth hearings, we were not sure as to how to observe what you are saying to give a child a voice, visibility, but we acknowledged that we need to prioritise them in this process, so ultimately we said look, because we don't have the capacity to contain very young people, we will get people who will make submissions on their behalf.
And I should think really the exposition that you have given, it serves a purpose of helping particularly very, very young people who have seen a lot in this country, to begin to think and make sense and even name some of the atrocities that you talked to because for a young person there is no language for facing a gunman, for facing a situation where you witness a parent being killed or any of the human rights violations that we are struggling with.
So I thank you very much. I hope you will cooperate with us as we move towards the drafting of the final report, people who have made submissions, we hope they will be of help in assisting us with whatever information we might need. Thank you very much.