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TRC Final Report
Page Number (Original) 441
Paragraph Numbers 34 to 43
Hearings in the Johannesburg region
34 More by default than design, the holding of public human rights violations hearings became the dominant activity of the Commission. Very little thought had been given to the process of organising these hearings before the Commission began its work, and it was left to commissioners and management to work out a format. An eight-week cycle was devised which started with public education meetings, moved into statement taking and logistic arrangements, and closed with a media campaign, a selection of cases for public attention and the hearing itself.
35 Three multi-functional teams were established to cover (1) the North West province and the West Rand in Gauteng; (2) Mpumalanga province, Johannesburg, Soweto, Alexandra and the East Rand in Gauteng, and (3) the Northern Province and Pretoria in Gauteng. These teams consisted of commissioners and committee members, a logistics officer, a briefer, two statement takers, a secretary, and a researcher. The media liaison and communications officers were members of all three teams.
36 In 1997 these three teams were collapsed into one. This allowed commissioners to specialise in their areas of focus (some on hearings, some on investigations). The new arrangement also provided for tighter control in organising public meetings, statement taking and hearings.
37 Another reason for this change of strategy was a concern that the Human Rights Violation Committee had become too hearings-driven and needed to be more statement-driven. However, with systems in motion and work already underway, the office never really succeeded in making the transition to statement taking as its prime activity.
38 Each member of the team played a distinct role in the hearings process. Logistics officers organised meetings with stakeholders and communities, taking care of venues, catering, security and transport. Commissioners and committee members oversaw the hearings process from the initial meetings with stakeholders up to the hearings themselves. They met with the local community, selected the cases to be heard and sat on the panel. Four to five commissioners and committee members usually attended each hearing.
39 Briefers were the primary interface between the Commission and witnesses at hearings. They provided emotional support to witnesses before, during and after testifying and by so doing carried out the Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee’s mandate regarding rehabilitation. The Reparation and Rehabilitation regional coordinator oversaw the work of the briefers. The briefing team, in turn, was responsible for informing deponents that they would be testifying at hearings and ensuring that they arrived. In addition to providing individual support to witnesses who testified at hearings, briefers prepared resource lists of support services, including counselling centres, hospitals and government social workers, to which they could refer witnesses after hearings. Community briefers provided post-hearings support, complemented by the resource list.
40 The communications officer took responsibility for organising educational workshops, publicising hearings through posters and pamphlets and periodically liaising with the media. Unfortunately, budget cuts and problems in establishing an effective national communications office severely hampered the work of the communications officer. There was only limited success in publicising hearings in this region and almost none in educating communities about the mandate and operation of the Commission. As will be discussed below, however, a variety of community-based organisations and NGOs stepped in to help fill the gaps.
41 The primary work of the Media Liaison Department was to assist the press at hearings. From time to time, it arranged talk shows in the run-up to hearings.
42 In 1997 the Johannesburg office embarked on a series of follow-up visits to centres where hearings had been held. Briefers were responsible for organising these workshops, which focused on identifying possibilities for reconciliation and reparation in the communities. Meetings were held in Ermelo, Pietersburg, Johannesburg, Boksburg, Sebokeng and Pretoria.
43 Much logistic work went into the organisation of hearings. The office tried to ensure that hearings were held in as many towns as possible throughout the fourteen or so months during which they took place. Efforts were made to use venues that were accessible to the communities which had suffered violations, although this consideration was sometimes outweighed by the need for adequate facilities and to minimise expense. The Commission was generously assisted by the municipal government in each town it visited, which allowed free use of facilities, such as the town hall, for the hearing.