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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 351

Paragraph Numbers 5 to 11

Volume 5

Chapter 9

Subsection 1


Healing through truth-telling and official acknowledgement

5 At a follow-up post-hearing workshop in Reiger Park, Anglican Bishop David Beetge said:

[The Commission] has given the opportunity for people to tell their story, stories which [could] never be told before... There were so many unhealed wounds before the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] began its work. The evidence of those who have given witness [is] that, by telling their story, they have shared a burden and found a new sense of peace. This is very obvious from the sheer look of some of them as they walk out of the meetings of the Commission. Archbishop Tutu has said truth will ultimately come out; it cannot be concealed forever. It is in its very nature to reveal, to throw light, to clarify what is hidden. There are ways and ways of telling our stories and we are not encouraging people to relive and retell their stories endlessly and promiscuously – never moving forward, never leaving the past behind.
We retell our painful stories so that we shall remember the years that lie behind with all their struggles and terror as the way that led to new life…

6 Not all storytelling heals. Not everyone wanted to tell his or her story. Many, on the other hand, were able to reach towards healing by telling the painful stories of their pasts. The healing potential of storytelling, of revealing the truth before a respectful audience and to an official body, is illustrated by the following testimonies:

7 At a Commission hearing in Heideveld, Cape Town, Mr Lukas Baba Sikwepere was given the opportunity to relate, in his own language1, his account of the human rights violations of which he had been a victim. During a political conflict in KTC (one of the informal settlements around Cape Town) on 31 December 1985, police allegedly began shooting at a number of people gathered around a police vehicle.

I decided to walk, because I knew that if you run, you were going to be shot…When I arrived at the place – when I thought, now I am safe, I felt something hitting my cheek… I felt my eyes itching… I was scratching my eyes, I wasn’t quite sure what happened to my eyes….

8 Mr Sikwepere described to the Commission how he was shot in the face and lost his sight. He also told of how, two years later, the police beat him with electric ropes, suffocated him, forced him to lie in an empty grave and tortured him in other ways.

9 When a Commissioner asked Mr Sikwepere how he felt after having delivered his testimony, he replied:

I feel that what has been making me sick all the time is the fact that I couldn’t tell my story. But now it feels like I got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story.

10 Quite often, witnesses revealed far more in oral testimony than they had in their written statements. This is illustrated by the testimony of a middle-aged woman, Ms Yvonne Khutwane, at the Worcester hearing:

I was just alone at the back of the Hippo2 and they [two South African Defence Force members] were just driving. It was pitch dark outside. They alighted [from] the Hippo and then they came to take me out of the Hippo. One of them said to me, can I see what I have put myself in, and then they asked me when did I last sleep with a man. I was so embarrassed by this question. And I felt so humiliated. I informed them that I have nobody. I didn’t have a partner. And then they asked me with whom am I staying. I informed them that I was with my family.
The other question that they asked me is, how do I feel when they – when I am having intercourse with a man. This was too much for me because they were repeating it time and again, asking me the same question, asking me what do I like with the intercourse, do I like the size of the penis or what do I enjoy most.
So the other one was just putting his hand inside me through the vagina. I was crying because I was afraid – we have heard that the soldiers are very notorious of raping people. This one continued putting his finger right through me, he kept on penetrating and I was asking for forgiveness and I was asking them what have I done, I am old enough to be your mother. But why are you treating me like this. This was very, very embarrassing. It was so painful. I couldn’t stand it, because these kids were young and they were still at a very young age, they had all the powers to respect and honour me. They were just the same age as my children and look what were they doing to me.

11 In her written statement, Ms Khutwane had made no mention of this sexual assault. In her debriefing session, she said that this was the first time she had spoken of it and that she felt tremendously relieved.

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