South African Coalition for Transition Justice Press Statement:
Civil Society stands in solidarity with the protesters demanding reparations for
apartheid-era gross human rights violations
18 November 2022
The South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ), representing 14 civil society organisations (CSOs) and 13 individual members including survivors of apartheid-era violations as well as former commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) wish to express their full support to the Khulumani Galela Campaign protesting at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg for the last month. The Campaign is led by ‘veteran’ activists who are demanding urgent government’s action in regard to the implementation of the long overdue reparations for gross human rights violations committed during the apartheid era.
It is an utter disgrace that for the past 30 days, elderly activists have been forced to sleep and camp on the stairs of the Constitutional Court in an attempt to attract the attention of the South African government and political leaders across the political divide to the pressing issue of outstanding reparations.
The last protest organised by the Khulumani Galela Campaign between April and May 2022, ended when an agreement was reached between the Department of Justice and the protesters. The department committed to engage meaningfully with the victims and civil society on the question of reparations, following which, the protesters agreed that they would end their protest. Sadly, the government failed to honour its commitments to the survivors and victims of apartheid-era gross human rights violations.
More than 20 years after the TRC submitted the last volumes of its Final Report to the South African government, it has failed in the implementation of the TRC’s Policy on Reparation and Rehabilitation. The government’s policy on reparation was adopted by the Parliament in a flawed process without proper consultations with civil society including victims’ groups in 2003. The TRC Unit set up within the Department of Justice to coordinate the implementation of these reparation measures, has been largely dysfunctional while the Department of Justice lacks the political will to meaningfully engage with civil society. The government also continues to rely on its unconstitutional policy of a “closed list of victims” to distribute reparations. The President’s Fund that holds monies ring-fenced for reparations has not spent the monies on its intended purpose and it appears to be poorly managed.
The transitional justice process in South Africa was based on the premise that victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence would be realized through a set of mutually reinforcing measures and mechanisms. These have included the setting up of the TRC and the truth-seeking process; the conditional amnesty process; the investigations and prosecutions where amnesty was denied or not applied for; the provision of meaningful, adequate and complete reparations; and institutional reforms.
The AZAPO and Others vs The President of the Republic of South Africa CCT 1996 judgement of 25 July 1996 reinforced the importance of reparations for victims of apartheid-era gross human rights violations, given the right to claims to damages being taken away as part of the transitional compromise. The reparations represented an important legal counter-balance to the conditional amnesty granted to perpetrators, according victim’s recognition through an acknowledgment of the violations perpetrated against them and the harm suffered. It also is a recognition of responsibility of the state in terms of its domestic and international obligations.
The government has a constitutional and international obligation to provide adequate and meaningful reparations to victims of gross human rights violations but this obligation remains largely unmet in South Africa. As civil society organizations, we stand ready to assist the government. However, the lack of political will on the part of the government to meaningfully engage on the issue of reparations is of deep concern.
In the light of the above:
- We stand in solidarity with our elderly comrades who not only suffered unspeakable human violations during apartheid so that today we can enjoy our lives in a constitutional democracy. They are now revictimized through the indifference of the state to their plight and the shameless loss of dignity. We stand firm in our belief that reparations are the ‘Unfinished Business of the TRC”, which must be addressed urgently.
- We call on the South Africa’s democratic government to engage meaningfully with the protesters, the broader constituency of victims of apartheid-era gross human rights violations who have been deprived of reparations even though they have qualified as ‘victims’ under the TRC Act of 1995, and civil society more generally. The time is up and the reparation question must be addressed now!
- We stand ready to engage with the political leaders on the issue of reparations and to provide technical assistance on the proposals going forward. This is subject to government showing a true commitment to the issue, which materializes in real actions.
- As the SACTJ, we pledge to assist the Khulumani Galela Campaign and all other victims of gross human rights violations as provided under the TRC Act of 1995, with the campaign for urgent and meaningful reparations. We will not hesitate to take the government to court over the issue of reparations, if the needs be.
Contact persons: Shirley Gunn – SACTJ chairperson: 0824509276
Katarzyna Zdunczyk – SACTJ management committee: 079 376 7805