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  • Written by  Marjorie Jobson, National Director of Khulumani Support Group.
  • Published in Khulumani Thinking
  • Read 3715 times

“No way out” – when hopelessness prevails: Thoughts on the struggle for reparations in South Africa

Khulumani reflects on the Story of Manoubia and her Son.

The story carries many resonances with Khulumani’s ongoing struggle for justice for the victims of the gross human rights abuses of South Africa’s apartheid past, and their continuously thwarted efforts to engage our government towards becoming a government of and for all its people, rather than where its officials frustrate so many of its people.

Khulumani reflects on the Story of Manoubia and her Son.

Shortly after the announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize Winners for 2011, Paul Sedra (Associate Professor of History at Simon Fraser University, Burnaby Campus, Canada) published a story of an ordinary Tunisian woman, Manoubia Bouazizi. He considered Manoubia would have been a worthy recipient of the Peace Prize. The full story can be read on the Jadaliyya website at http://www.jadaliyya.com/pages/index/2825/manoubia-and-her-son.

The story carries many resonances with Khulumani’s ongoing struggle for justice for the victims of the gross human rights abuses of South Africa’s apartheid past, and their continuously thwarted efforts to engage our government towards becoming a government of and for all its people, rather than where its officials frustrate so many of its people

Manoubia, we learn, is a resident of a small town, Sidi Bouzid, 300 kilometres south of Tunis. It is a town that has seldom attracted the attention of its government. It is a town where unemployment is as high as 30% and where those who work hard to sustain themselves and their families face continuous harassment by hostile and unsupportive local government officials.

Manoubia’s son, Tariq fended for his family including his widowed mother and his three sisters by selling fruit and vegetables every day at the local market. Tariq was proudly self-sufficient. He made supreme efforts to take control of his life in conditions of extreme economic inequality and impoverishment. But the almost daily harassment by officials and their demands for bribes beyond the daily income he was able to generate, culminated in a humiliating altercation with a police woman who tried to confiscate Tariq’s two baskets of apples along with his electronic scale. Tariq resisted and the police woman hit him across the face. He wept openly.

He went to the office of the governor to demand an audience about the injustice he had suffered. He was refused an audience and in despair, poured paint thinners over his body and set himself alight. He sustained 90% burns and after three weeks he passed away on 4 January 2011. Tariq was twenty-six years old.

Many areas in South Africa have unemployment rates higher than 30% and have people determined to take control of their lives even in conditions of extreme economic inequality and impoverishment. Many of these people are harassed and frustrated daily by officials, and are refused any audience with the authorities.

South Africa has its own Tariq Bouazizi – the young Skhumbuzo Mhlongo who at the age of twenty-two years, in September 2009, took his own life after being repeatedly frustrated by officials of the Department of Home Affairs. He was apparently denied an Identity Document on the basis that the officials suspected him of being a “non-national” (not of South African origin). Skhumbuzo Mhlongo was the sole provider for his younger siblings after his mother abandoned the family. Skhumbuzo needed an ID to take up a job he had found at a local bird food company. At his funeral, Minister of Home Affairs, Dr Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, said “If someone after coming from a Home Affairs office says he has lost hope to a point of ending his life that cannot be acceptable, it cannot be right and it cannot continue[1]”.

Khulumani members being victims and survivors of apartheid-era gross human rights abuses identify closely with such feelings of deep frustration, hopelessness and despair especially when they are repeatedly treated with extreme disrespect by the officials in the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development (DOJ). This department seems to ignore the very Preamble to our Constitution which states that we (as a country and government which does not exclude the DOJ) “honour those who struggled for freedom and justice”. Khulumani members who struggled for freedom and justice do not feel honoured or even acknowledged.

The DOJ continues to fail Khulumani members and other ordinary citizens who live with the consequences of apartheid-era gross human rights abuses. The DOJ’s TRC Unit:

  • continues to exclude victims and survivors from its deliberations, despite promises to include them;
  • continues to fail to respond to reparations proposals for effective measures to ‘restore a future’ to so many of those who have carried the greatest costs of the struggle; and
  • continues to ignore the pleas of Khulumani members who have in effect said: “We can do things for ourselves, but we do not have the resources to do so. We demand to play our part in rebuilding our own lives”.

It is difficult to comprehend this shameful neglect and sidelining of Khulumani’s members by our government against the spirit of one of our Constitution’s very foundations.

Khulumani members have said “The cries of victims everywhere cannot (and must not) be ignored or silenced any longer, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel”. More recently however members have started saying “There is no way out”.

 

This has eery echoes of Tariq Bouazizi’s and Skhumbuzo Mhlongo’s sense of helplessness and their tragic decisions to end their lives. Our government, and in particular the DOJ need to change their condescending, disrespectful, distant and impenetrable attitudes towards Khulumani.

Khulumani’s membership includes struggle veterans who did not carry weapons but who nevertheless struggled (and suffered) for freedom and justice, and the surviving families of these non-military struggle veterans.

We would urge Dr Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma to say to government as whole and to Minister Jeff Radebe in particular: “If someone after interacting with any government department, including the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, says they have ‘no way out’ that cannot be acceptable and it cannot be right and it cannot continue”.


[1] Reported in BBC News, 3 September 2009, accessed  at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/8235324.stm, 14 October 2011.

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