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  • Written by  Independent Online
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'Reparations' con artists spread their story

Scams targeting apartheid victims are more widespread than the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, where they were originally reported to be operating. The Khulumani Victims' Support Group said its councillors had received complaints in Northwest, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, in addition to many still coming from KwaZulu-Natal.

Scams targeting apartheid victims are more widespread than the rural areas of KwaZulu-Natal, where they were originally reported to be operating.

The Khulumani Victims' Support Group said its councillors had received complaints in Northwest, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape provinces, in addition to many still coming from KwaZulu-Natal.

Scam operators in Northwest last week tried to con victims out of R5 000 with promises that this would make them eligible to receive the state's R30 000 reparations grant.

The justice department last month sounded the alarm after it was informed of "hundreds of people" being swindled by unscrupulous "agents" in rural KwaZulu-Natal with promises that they would receive the grant.

This week the department appealed to the public to understand that only victims identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) would get the grant and that this process was already closed.

Khulumani chairperson Marjorie Jobson said the group, originally set up to help victims get access to the TRC process, was trying to lobby the government to make forthcoming community reparations available to a larger group of victims it is identifying.

She said they were building a database of cases to ensure that these victims too received some redress. The cases included torture, murder, disappearances and those who lost their homes through violence. She said the con artists used the Khulumani "needs assessment" form, which is used to track and verify victims.

The scam artists had copied the forms and promised people money should they fill them out, demanding upfront payment of between R100 and thousands. Some of the operators have been apprehended by the police and rural chiefs after being reported by Khulumani.

Jobson said Khulumani was extremely concerned and discussed the issue last week with the justice department at a meeting on outstanding reparations issues.

"For us it highlights the fact that there are too many people who have needs which have not been addressed, and we want to work with the government to find a way of ensuring that every victim has access to proper services until the last one dies," she said.

Zweli Mkize, Khulumani's database manager, said they had already identified 42 000 victims of gross violations in addition to the 22 000 who went through the TRC process, and were verifying their status through sworn statements and official records.

Jobson said many of the overlooked victims lived in remote areas not adequately covered by the TRC, particularly in KwaZulu, where some were discouraged by Inkatha from taking part in the process. It was also in these areas that the scams seemed to thrive because many were ignorant of the process.

Justice department spokesperson Kaizer Kganyago confirmed that the department was drafting regulations to allow for community reparations and that this was likely to cover the broader category of apartheid victims. The justice department, too, was still inundated by people claiming to be apartheid victims.

Hlengiwe Mkize, the former head of the TRC's reparations committee and now consultant to the justice department on the issue, said the regulations would also cover symbolic redress such as statues of apartheid era heroes and history projects.

"We are telling government departments that community rehabilitation will go beyond their normal duties of uplifting the poor and requires special redress projects which will also invest in future generations," Hlengiwe Mkize said.

"The drafters are considering the setting up of special ad hoc committees to finish outstanding reparations tasks."

She also hoped to convene a consultative workshop with civil society and business "to look at what should go into community reparations and what they could assist with".

Big business has promised to help the government make such reparations, but recently indicated it cannot proceed until there is clarity on what needs to be done.

"We are calling for a huge commitment from business; much more than small donations," Mkize said.

Kganyago said the department was still trying to locate 1 893 TRC-identified victims to pay them their individual reparations, but could not advertise their names as they feared this would place them at greater risk of being conned.

Kganyago stressed that where a victim died, his or her next of kin would be entitled to the payment.

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