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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 423

Paragraph Numbers 1 to 9

Volume 1

Chapter 12

Subsection 15

Regional Office Reports



1 The East London regional office of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Commission) faced its first real challenge with the announcement that the launch of the Human Rights Violations Committee hearings would be held in the Eastern Cape. This was met with threats of legal action and interdicts aimed at preventing the event from taking place.

2 There was some popular discontent as well. People had difficulty in understanding some of the changes that were taking place, particularly with regard to the integration of the security forces of the former Ciskei and Transkei with the South African Defence Force (SADF), Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) and the Azanian National Liberation Army (AZANLA). In addition, the redeployment of numbers of former security police meant that many perpetrators of human rights abuses were now in the service of the new African National Congress (ANC)-led government. Considerable bitterness was expressed by those who had suffered abuse at the hands of the former state and who felt that the ‘negotiated settlement’ (of which the Commission was a product) had benefited people other than themselves. Not only did they feel that they had not seen justice done concerning perpetrators of human rights abuses but, in some cases, those same perpetrators were still in positions of power. This scenario was not particularly conducive to the desired culture of respect for human rights and a positive attitude towards the work of the Commission.

3 Some families of victims of human rights violations, such as the family of Steve Biko and Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, were deeply suspicious of the Commission’s ability to address their deeply felt grievances towards those responsible for the deaths of their loved ones. At the time of the launch of the Commission, the Azanian Peoples’ Organisation (AZAPO) and members of some of the victims’ families repeatedly and publicly voiced their objections. The same organisation, together with the Biko and Ribeiro families, took the matter to the Cape Provincial Supreme Court Division for an order to restrain the Commission from conducting hearings until the Constitutional Court had ruled on the validity of their constitutional challenge. Former members of the security forces also launched a legal action. Human Rights Violations Committee was legally justified, in the course of its public hearings, in receiving evidence from witnesses adversely implicating any person as a perpetrator without prior notice being given to them.

4 This legal action took its toll on the Commission’s work, both in the region and nationally. Apartheid victims resented the fact that they could not mention the names of those they alleged were their persecutors without giving them warning. Some were further embittered by the fact that the legal challenges imposed incalculable expense on the taxpayer. Under the principle of vicarious liability, the new government continued to be financially responsible for the defence and litigation of those who served the previous government if the matter or criminal charge related to acts committed in the execution of their duties. The Commission, however, was obliged to abide by the ruling of the courts and sought to uphold what were seen as the natural justice rights of alleged perpetrators.


5 The East London regional office was located at a central point in the region. It served an area stretching from the KwaZulu-Natal border to the Tsitsikama forest on the border of the Western Cape province. It incorporated the eastern part of the old Cape Province, the former ‘independent homelands’ of Transkei and Ciskei, and the so-called ‘border corridor’, a strip of land between the two homelands which previously formed part of white South Africa. East London and Port Elizabeth are the two main industrial centres in the region, and Grahamstown, Bisho and Umtata serve as judicial and administrative centres.


6 The region has a population of about six million, the third largest in the country. While roughly half of the total population is urbanised, the majority of the African population lives in rural areas that previously fell under homeland administrations.

7 The overwhelming majority of the population (approximately 87 per cent) is African. Six per cent of the population is made up of white people who live mainly in the industrial cities and generally in the western half of the province. Coloured people constitute 6.7 per cent of the population. A small number of Indians also resides in this province.

Languages spoken

8 African people in the area are almost entirely Xhosa-speaking. White people are fairly evenly divided between English and Afrikaans speakers, and the coloured population consists of both Afrikaans and English speakers.

Income/poverty profile

9 The Eastern Cape Province is the second poorest of the nine South African provinces (following the Northern Province). Unemployment is estimated at 65 per cent of the economically active population. The 1991 Development Bank figures show that over half the adult population received no formal education. Levels of literacy and life expectancy are lower and levels of poverty higher in the Eastern Cape and Northern Province than in any other provinces. This poverty is concentrated in the former homeland areas, which are under-resourced and lacking in infrastructure and basic health care facilities.

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