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Time for a New Kairos demanding the Right to Truth for victims of the political crimes of the past

A CALL FOR A NEW KAIROS IN SOUTH AFRICA 30 YEARS AFTER THE 1985 RUSTENBURG CONFERENCE ADOPTED THE KAIROS DOCUMENT: TIME TO DEMAND TRUTH FOR FAMILY MEMBERS OF VICTIMS OF POLITICALLY MOTIVATED CRIMES: 11 AUGUST 2015

The 30th anniversary of the adoption of the important Kairos document in 1985 will be marked with a ceremony on 18 August 2015 at the Regina Mundi Church in Soweto. “Kairos” is the ancient Greek word for ‘a right or opportune moment’. In 1985, under a state of emergency, many concerned church leaders took a stand in calling for churches to end their support for apartheid and for the apartheid regime. The ‘Standing for the Truth’ campaign was one powerful outcome of this ‘kairos’.

Over the past thirty years, much has changed in the country in its journey towards the building of a just and inclusive society in which people are able to realise their fullest potential. But this aspiration has been limited by the realities of the still unrestored and unrestituted losses sustained by some 100,000 political activists along with combatants who contributed to the country’s liberation from apartheid. The actions that many of these individuals initiated based on their analysis of what needed to change and how the change could be implemented, resulted in them being targeted for gross violations of their human rights. Most of these struggle veterans remain excluded from participation in the country’s post-apartheid social and economic life.

At the panel entitled “Africa at a fork in the road” at the South African Book Fair held over the weekend of July 31 – 2 August 2015, Professor Steven Friedman asserted that we are struggling now because we have not yet dealt adequately with what happened in the past.

Khulumani Support Group calls on the religious leaders who will come together to mark the 30th anniversary of the original Kairos document to contribute to “speaking out” about the large agenda of unresolved issues that have been left in suspension since the untimely closing of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC’s) activities that focused on measures to restore the lives of those harmed by apartheid atrocities. Khulumani Support Group has been calling for all South Africans to become involved in “finishing what we started” – ASIKAQEDI!

Khulumani Support Group calls specifically on Reverend Frank Chikane (one of the authors of the 1985 Kairos Document) to lead the stand with his colleagues to demand full disclosure of the truth by all apartheid security agents and their political leaders and to demand that government honour its undertakings to institute a comprehensive reparations programme for all person harmed as a result of the atrocities identified as falling within the mandate of the TRC. 

The demand for the truth is of particular concern to Khulumani Support Group and its partners in the South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ) as the Departments of Justice and Correctional Services prepare the list of offenders recommended by the Reference Group (RG) in Parliament in 2009 for Presidential Pardons. The Special Dispensation for Presidential Pardons was announced by President Mbeki in November 2007. He specified that the work of the RG would have to adhere to the “principles, values and spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission”. He generously extended the time line for individuals who wished to claim a political motivation for their crimes to 16 June 1999, long after the date provided for the submission of statements from persons who suffered gross human rights violations - 10 May 1994.

Post-apartheid state practices have been characterized by the extension of extraordinary benefits to perpetrators of the political crimes of the past while the state has remained intransigent in refusing access to justice for victims of these same politically-motivated crimes.

The Special Dispensation on Presidential Pardons for those who perpetrated these crimes would expunge all records of the crimes at a time when 50% of the victims of these specific crimes still do not know the identities of those who murdered their family members. Over 2,000 incarcerated offenders applied for the special dispensation. Of this list, 149 individuals were recommended for the special pardon by the Ad Hoc Reference Group (RG) that was set up in Parliament, under the leadership of the late Tertius Delport (DA). 120 recommendations were made by consensus. The balance of 29 were decided by a majority vote.

In early 2009, government under interim President Kgalema Motlanthe, was poised to grant the pardons. The South African Coalition for Transitional Justice (SACTJ), which includes Khulumani Support Group, went to the Constitutional Court to challenge the Special Dispensation on grounds that it failed, in terms of the principles, values and spirit of the TRC, to meet the requirement for victim participation and consultation, or for full disclosure of the truth by the offenders as prerequisites for ensuring the legitimacy of the process. The Constitutional Court declared the Special Dispensation “illegal, invalid and unconstitutional” and granted an interim interdict against President Motlanthe from granting the pardons. The judgment stated that the president should allow the victims and or their families and interested parties to be heard prior to releasing any prisoner. The judgment also said that until the matter is heard again, the president cannot issue pardons and he would have to supply the civil society groups with a list of names of the applicants who had been recommended for pardons by the reference group.

The resuscitation of the process some six years later is still contested because of the failures of truth disclosure and of linking specific offenders to their victims. Opinions differ within government on the extent to which the requirement for victim consultation is a prerequisite.

The largest group of victims are the victims of the Richmond murders that resulted from conflict between the UDM and the ANC. Khulumani’s extensive field work in the Richmond district revealed that affected families were unable to identify their attackers because they had come in the dead of night; had worn balaclavas, and had opened fire randomly inside their homes killing several family members in each attack. None of the families consulted by 

Khulumani’s fieldworkers had been called to attend the trials that had taken place in the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate’s Court and when one of the SACTJ member organisations applied to that court for the transcripts of the trials, they were told that the records could not be found and that they had either been shredded or had never been transcribed in the first place.  

Khulumani Support Group is further concerned that full disclosure has been prevented in the cases of the five individuals implicated in attempts to murder Reverend Frank Chikane as a result of the plea bargain that was entered into between them and Reverend Chikane. These offenders include former Minister of Law and Order, Mr Adriaan Vlok, General Johannes van der Merwe who had served the last apartheid government in the capacity of Commissioner of Police, and three additional security police officers who served under General Smit, Chief of the apartheid Security Branch.

The Vlok et al plea bargain used another special mechanism constructed by the Department of Justice to provide opportunities for apartheid agents who had failed to apply for amnesty, to come forward and make disclosures to officials in the National Prosecuting Authority about their crimes. The mechanism entitled “Prosecuting policy and directives relating to the prosecution of offences emanating from conflicts of the past and which were committed on or before 11 May 1994”, was detailed in an Addendum to the Criminal Procedures Act which was never debated in Parliament. The SACTJ took legal action against this mechanism on grounds that it provided for a back-door amnesty without the requirement of truth disclosure to the families of victims. The court ruled against this policy.

In the adjudication of the plea bargain, Reverend Frank Chikane agreed to allow the offenders to plead guilty to the charge of his attempted murder. The alternative charge and the second charge against Vlok et. al., were dropped, depriving the public of the possibility of learning the truth about the complicity of Dr Wouter Basson and his associate, veterinary surgeon Dr André Immelman, in providing the deadly poison used in the attempt to murder Reverend Chikane.

The SACTJ memorandum on the Final Report of the Reference Group points to how the applications of the former Minister of Law and Order, Mr Adriaan Vlok, and former Commissioner of Police, General Johannes van der Merwe to the RG “were noteworthy for the almost total absence of relevant facts.”     

Victims of apartheid-era crimes call on Reverend Chikane to assert that the requirement of truth disclosure is as important to themselves as it was to himself when he said in court papers, that was "extremely important for him to have the true facts surrounding the attempt on his life".

Now almost twenty years since the commencement of the TRC in 1996, there has not been full disclosure of the truth. For some family members of the victims of these crimes, there is an important and almost overwhelming need to know what happened to their loved ones, how they were murdered and where their bodies are buried. The family of Nokuthula Simelane is one amongst many who exhibit the complicated grief that affects those denied the truth of the disappearance of their daughter and sibling 32 years ago.

On the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the adoption of the Kairos document, we call on Reverend Frank Chikane to join Khulumani Support Group and its partners in demanding the right to the truth for all victims of the political crimes of the past.

Issued by Khulumani Support Group: www.khulumani.net
For comment, please contact Dr Marjorie Jobson on 082 268 0223.

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