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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 427
Paragraph Numbers 22 to 35
■ WORK OF THE COMMISSION
22 Statement taking began early. Both statement takers and briefers helped to get the first human rights violation hearing off the ground in April 1996 by taking a significant number of statements. During the first hearing, the statement takers and briefers also helped transport witnesses to the hearing and protected them from crowds of journalists and other interested people.
23 The East London office eventually employed eight statement takers, based mainly in towns throughout the region (Umtata, Butterworth, Queenstown, Grahamstown and Port Elizabeth) for easy access by deponents. After a few months, however, it became clear that few people were coming forward to make statements, and a more proactive strategy was needed. By the beginning of 1997, personnel were re-deployed: one each in Umtata and Grahamstown and three each in Port Elizabeth and East London.
24 Poor access to vehicles impacted on statement taking programmes and vehicles were rotated in an attempt to accommodate the needs of statement takers, whose responsibilities also included fetching witnesses for the hearings on human rights violations and identifying which communities had not yet been contacted for statement taking. The shortage of vehicles meant that statements were taken largely in cities and towns and at the human rights violation hearing venues. Rural villages were, of necessity, often ignored.
25 Later assessment revealed that there should have been closer links between the investigation work and statement taking. Despite setbacks and problems, by June 1997 statement takers had recorded over 2 000 statements in the Eastern Cape.
26 The job of the data analyst was to do a basic analysis of the hand-written human rights violation statements and capture details on the Commission’s database.
27 Because the Commission’s database was not functioning until mid-1996, analysts were not hired until long after the office had been set up. There was also no clarity in the East London office about what the job entailed, which resulted in the hiring of people without the correct qualifications. In addition, with no information manager to oversee the process, work was done in a haphazard and unco-ordinated fashion for several months. This contributed to a filing crisis which dogged the East London office for much of its existence.
28 Despite these obstacles, the data analysts managed to work speedily through the backlog of hand-written cases, logging almost all of them onto the database by the end of 1996. Some learnt rapidly on the job, showing a remarkable determination to get the work done.
Hearings in the Eastern Cape
29 The office held fifteen human rights violation hearings (ten during 1996 and five in 1997) in twelve different towns throughout the province. Nearly 700 witnesses were heard, including some alleged perpetrators and a small number of witnesses who made submissions on behalf of organisations or provided background information. Thus, about one-third of the people who made human rights violation statements by June 1997 were given the opportunity to testify at the public hearings.
30 The success of the first hearing in East London gave the office a great boost of confidence, despite a bomb scare during the morning session. Thousands flocked to the hearing and, by the end of the first day, support for the Commission and its work was confirmed. Twenty witnesses testified about their direct and/or indirect experiences of gross human rights violations - including killings, disappearances, torture and various forms of severe ill treatment at the hands of either the state security forces or liberation movements. This set the standard for the rest of the hearings organised by the East London office.
31 Almost all the Eastern Cape hearings were very well attended, with crowds sometimes filling halls to beyond capacity. Generally, staff felt that the hearings had been successful both in giving victims and their families an opportunity to be heard and in working towards reconciliation.
32 Hearings were often logistic nightmares, and the fact that they were all fairly successful is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of the staff involved in them. The frequent changes to the schedule for human rights violation hearings - necessitated by efforts to cover as much of the province as possible - meant that planning was disrupted, often resulting in last minute rushes.
33 Staff went to a lot of trouble to identify different types of cases for the human rights violation hearings so that both high and low profile cases were heard, witnesses from across the political spectrum were given a voice, and both individual and group cases were heard. Occasionally alleged perpetrators were able to give their side of the story at the same hearings as their accusers. The hearing at Lusikisiki, for example, became a landmark in uncovering the history of rural rebellions from the early 1960s.
34 Amnesty hearings were difficult because there was no member of the Amnesty Committee in the office. There were also no clear guidelines on how to conduct the hearings. A lengthy amnesty hearing in late 1997 put a great deal of pressure on the office at a time when staff numbers and morale were low because of the roll out plan.
35 Inevitably, the hearings took priority, but there was a need to focus on other cases too. As noted earlier, while about one-third of the cases collected by the East London office by June 1997 were dealt with in public hearings, other cases required the same level of attention. Each case needed to be investigated and an eventual finding made by the Human Rights Violations Committee.