As South Africa marks the 20th anniversary of the first public hearing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there is a renewed call for the government to pursue and prosecute apartheid-era human rights violators.
The Khulumani victims support group this weekend launched its Justice Heals campaign, to highlight “the fundamental need of victims to closure as the prerequisite for healing”.
Dr Marjorie Jobson, director of Khulumani, said the Justice Heals campaign is part of Khulumani’s project, Asikaqedi, meaning “let us finish what we started”.
The organisation, representing the majority of the more than 20 000 victims and survivors whose cases were processed through the TRC, launched its campaign with an event outside the East London City Hall, “to remind people of the terrible price victims of human rights abuse had to pay for democracy to be born”.
“This campaign is to remind people that there is still so much to be done, because there is a fundamental need to heal from the terrifying experience that has been our collective past.
“Justice Heals is about getting to the truth so that everyone can know what happened to the victims and those who are still suffering from those acts of brutality.
“It is about making a clear statement that victims are the adjudicators of when there has been justice.”
She said events this week would also highlight specific issues the government should be forced to address.
These included cases such as that of the Cradock Four – involving the slaying in the Eastern Cape of four activists, Fort Calata, Sicelo Mhlauli, Matthew Goniwe and Sparrow Mkhonto, in the early 1980s.
Goniwe was a teacher in Cradock, as was Calata.
They had been on a security police hit list for their participation in the Struggle.
Mkhonto, a railway union activist, and Mhlauli, a visiting headmaster and childhood friend, were travelling together in a car when it was stopped outside Port Elizabeth.
They were never seen alive again.
This is a case which featured prominently at the first public TRC hearing.
At the hearing Nombuyiselo Mhlauli, widow of Sicelo, recounted what happened and the state in which the families were left when apartheid authorities abducted and murdered the four men.
Nombuyiselo Mhlauli, recalling her testimony, said this week: “I remember me and my children heading for East London to something that we did not know what shape it was going to take.
“We were very much fragile and miserable and still suffering from the post traumatic disorders.
“We presented our stories of suffering shortly after Ms Mapetla, whom I knew from our school days. It was a sad day but also bringing some hope for our future as the families whose rights were violated. It was indeed a deep pain to reflect on the atrocities, on the other side it was a great relief to share your story with the world.”
She said it was “sad that the recommendations of the TRC were never implemented (by the government) and that many people have passed on by now”.
Jobson said it was “an absolute indictment of the National Prosecuting Authority, a national disgrace and an insult to the victims that they have been sitting with the Cradock Four case, dragging their heels, with all the evidence in their possession” over the prosecution of Gerard Lotz, one of the security policemen involved in the murder, who was refused amnesty by the TRC.
“The fact that Lotz committed suicide two weeks ago means that, once again, the victims were denied justice. He was on the verge of being charged, but for reasons only the NPA can explain, there seemed no intent to prosecute and they delayed in this case and the perpetrator committed suicide, so there was no one left to drive the prosecution.”
She said this had been extremely disappointing for the survivors, because, through neglect of the duty to prosecute, the victims were denied justice. “There remain deeply traumatised people who have not found relief and, as a result, have been robbed of their right to heal.”
There are other critical matters which will be urgently addressed to the government through the Justice Heals and Asikaqedi projects, said Jobson. “For us there are just too many matters that have been left unfinished, including the fact that Khulumani wants the NPA to add 1 200 names for investigation to its current list of politically disappeared persons.”
She said that, with Workers Day on May 1 approaching, Khulumani would intensify its call for the state to prosecute Steve Whitehead, the former security policeman who tortured Neil Aggett.
“We have made much progress with the case of Neil Aggett, because many security policemen have not come clean and we believe this will help heal the wounds of millions of workers for whom Neil Aggett was a heroic figure.”
Jobson was supported in her Justice Heals campaign by Father Michael Weeder, Dean of St George’s Cathedral.
Weeder said he supported the call for prosecution of apartheid-era violators, because in this process they had the option to reveal the truth and “even if they go to jail, they go to jail unshackled from the lies and darkness of the past”.
Reflecting on the pain recently witnessed from Limpho Hani, widow of Struggle hero Chris Hani, Weeder said the past still haunts our land.
“Chris Hani’s widow is told to ‘get on with it’, but why should we forgive lies, unless we are allowing ourselves to be co-opted into our own demise?”