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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 135

Paragraph Numbers 59 to 75

Volume 6

Section 2

Chapter 4

Subsection 8


59. It must be stressed once again here that the stories presented in this section a re not representative either in terms of violations or the experiences of victims. Each of these stories has its own individuality and texture, and this must be born e in mind when considering the special needs and circumstances of each victim.

60. What is, of course, representative about these stories is that they are about ordinary men and women whose lives were irrevocably changed by the violations they suffered during the course of political conflict.

61. Some of the arguments politicians have raised in response to calls to implement the recommendations of the Commission’s RRC have caused concern. They make the point that the majority of victims were political activists who, in one way or another, made a conscious decision to engage in a political struggle against apartheid. The argument is often expressed thus: ‘we were not in the struggle for money’. While the Commission understands the grounds upon which this statement is made, in terms of international human rights law on reparations and rehabilitation even political activists who decided to become involved in the struggle against apartheid should be compensated if they became casualties of the conflict.

62. The Reparation and Rehabilitation policy raises far- reaching and complex questions concerning individuals who have been victims of gross violations of human rights. How can we assess the impact of an abuse of human rights on the life of any one individual? Is it possible to separate that abuse from other aspects of a person’s life? Is it possible to make an accurate assessment of the impact without understanding the full context of that person’s life? How can we conclude what a person’s life would have been like had the violation not occurred?

63. The simplest model (and one that is commonly used) is of a single negative event having a single negative consequence for the person involved. It would be convenient if we could simply draw up a list of negative things that happen to people, assign a weighting to them and from there determine accurately the impact of event X on person Y. This would certainly simplify the issues and administration of reparations and rehabilitation.

64. However, in many cases, people affected by what are defined as gross violations of human rights have been living lives in which other, ongoing stressors have played their part. These stressors include living with poverty, discrimination, lack of access to the resources the country has to offer and the experiences of humiliation and disrespect that many black South Africans have borne for generations. Moreover, oppression, humiliation and racism have serious consequences not only for individuals but for the social fabric as well. Thus, although the Commission is bound by its mandate to consider only certain kinds of violations, it is necessary to describe the context within which these violations took place.

65. This leads to a further question to be considered: how do we understand the consequences of social injustice and human rights violations for individuals, for their families and for communities?

66. Compounding the matter even further is the fact that the effects of trauma appear to be felt by succeeding generations. For example, studies on children and grandchildren of survivors of the Holocaust in Europe in the middle of the twentieth century show clearly that these now-distant events continue to impact on the course of people’s lives, their patterns of attachment and the quality of their relationships. Arguments about financial compensation from that now-distant calamity also continue unabated.

67. Thus, it is not only the case that events occur in context, as we have already mentioned, but that the consequences of events impact on the way people continue with their lives, their relationships, their child-rearing practices and those of their children and grandchildren for decades after the traumatic event.

68. Another complexity in understanding human rights violations lies in the fact that the same people have, indifferent events, been both victims and perpetrators. One reasonably common consequence of abuse is that abused people have a greater likelihood of becoming perpetrators of abuse. Many people who have perpetrated what are defined as gross violations of human rights have themselves been affected by abuse, poverty and discrimination.

69. Furthermore, the consequences of human rights abuse and political oppression may at times cross the boundaries of public and private life. For example, a person who has been abused and humiliated in the context of a political struggle may be more likely to perpetrate abuse and humiliation in the context of family life. It has also been well established in many contexts that people who have been oppressed may be at risk of emulating their oppressors – and of taking on the oppressor role in the future. Active intervention in this cycle is often necessary in order to break it.

70. White South Africans who were protected by the state bear scars of a different kind. Although there is no question that being a target of discrimination generally has far more serious consequences than being a beneficiary of it, social injustice has consequences for all who live in the society. If the Commission is to fulfil its role of contributing to the rehabilitation not only of individuals but of the nation as a whole, South Africa must look seriously at the social consequences of allowing the beneficiaries of an unjust system to reproduce discrimination at a cost to themselves and future generations. A nation that turns its back on these social realities places itself at serious risk of an ongoing cycle of injustice and violence.


7 1 . T h e re are examples worldwide of noble agreements aimed at resolving bloody conflicts that have proved unsustainable beyond the lifetimes of the peacemakers. Talks about reconciliation that fails to emphasise justice for victims seem doomed to fail in their promise of national unity and reconciliation. This is why calls for reparation and rehabilitation urge South Africans to dismantle the ‘conspiracy of silence’ that often characterises the ongoing experience of victims and survivor s of violations of gross human rights.

72. Dr Yael Danieli, director of the Group Project for Holocaust Survivors and their Children and director of the Centre for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims in New York, suggests that silence is the most common way society responds to the survivors of trauma. Because most people find trauma overwhelming, they choose to avoid dealing with it. Unfortunately such avoidance further isolates the individual or the community, entrenching the feeling of alienation and vulnerability often experienced by those who have been in the hands of torturers and killers. The silence may leave the ‘sufferers’ with no option but to repress their pain, thereby delaying the desired complex healing process from being initiated.

73. The Commission’s Final Report discussed in some detail the enormous importance of reconciliation as ‘a goal and a process’ of the Commission.65 I t highlighted the diff e rent levels at which reconciliation needs to take place in South Africa and the complexity of the links between them.

Many years ago, Albert Luthuli, the first South African recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, articulated a vision of South Africa as ‘a home for all her sons and daughters’. This concept is implicit in the Interim Constitution. Thus, not only must we lay the foundation for a society in which physical needs will be met; we must also create a home for all South Africans. The road to reconciliation, therefore, means both material reconstruction and the restoration of dignity. It involves the redress of gross inequalities and the nurturing of respect for our common humanity. It entails sustainable growth and development in the spirit of ubuntu … It implies wide-ranging structural and institutional transformation and the healing of broken human relationships. It demands guarantees that the past will not be repeated. It requires restitution and the restoration of our humanity – as individuals, as communities and as a nation.6 6

74. The policy proposed by the RRC and described in the Final Report67 encompasses the spirit of this paragraph. Urgent interim reparation seeks to provide assistance for people in urgent need. Individual reparation grants seek to ‘transform abject poverty into modest security’.6 8 Symbolic reparation and legal and administrative measures seek to assist communities and individuals in commemorating the pains and victories of the past. Community re h a b i litation programmes seek to establish community-based services in order to aid the healing and recovery of individuals and communities. Institutional, legal and administrative reforms are designed to prevent the recurrence of human rights abuses.

75. Speaking at a series of workshops hosted by the Commission in Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape, Dr Danieli warned that failure to act will cause South Africans to pay for the legacy of political violence in the future . She proposed that healing and reparation in South Africa should be prioritised as a cornerstone for transformation beyond the life of the Commission, and should take place at individual as well as community (school, church, workplace) and national levels. In the words of Wole Soyinka:

As the world draws closer together – the expression ‘global village’ did not come into currency for no just cause – it seems only natural to examine the scoresheet of relationships between converging communities. Where there has been inequity, especially of a singularly brutalizing kind, of a kind that robs one side of its most fundamental attribute – its humanity – it seems only appropriate that some form of atonement be made, in order to exorcise that past. Reparations, we repeat, serve as a cogent critique of history and thus a potent restraint on its repetition … It is not possible to ignore the example of the Jews and the obsessed commitment of survivors of the Holocaust, and their descendants, to recover both their material patrimony, and the humanity of which they w e re brutally deprived.
65 Volume One, Chapter Five, p. 1 0 6 . 66 Volume One, Chapter Fi v e, p. 1 1 0 , para 26. 67 Volume Fi v e, Chapter Fi v e.
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