State to oppose claims by apartheid victims –

Former Truth and Reconciliation commissioners have made the strongest appeal yet for a public debate on the process to resolve the unfinished business of apartheid. They say the legacy of the process has become bogged down in legal battles and obscure administrative machinations. The appeal was made in the same week government and multinational corporations indicated they would continue to oppose reparations claims by apartheid victims in a New York court against those they believed assisted the state to repress them.

This was despite a major victory last week, when a panel of United States appeals judges gave the go-ahead for the claims against the corporations – estimated at up to $400-billion (about R2,7-trillion) – to be heard under US laws.

Some of the companies, which the claimants allege “aided and abetted” apartheid repression, indicated on Friday they would seek a rehearing by the appeals court, while Justice Minister Brigitte Mabandla formally stated that the South African government would continue to oppose the lawsuits.

Her department is also opposing constitutional challenges to its post-TRC prosecution guidelines, brought by victims, and another on its apparent lack of guidelines for granting presidential pardons to opposition parties’ political prisoners, jailed for apartheid-era atrocities.

Now, five years after the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), it has emerged that the government still has no comprehensive plan for making community reparations, over and above the limited individual compensation it paid out to about 15 000 victims of human rights violations.
At the moment, the President’s Fund, established for apartheid reparations, contains an estimated R600-million, but victims claim they are unable to access it.

Former TRC deputy chairperson Alex Boraine this week blamed the government for falling “far short” in following the recommendations of the TRC on both prosecutions and reparations, saying this “hangover” from the process should be dealt with.

“I think, really, a debate has to be opened, because there is so much confusion, and so many different stakeholders – the perpetrators, the legal community, the victims, the media – have an interest in gaining clarity as to the way forward.”

His appeal for a new public process has been endorsed by former commissioners Mary Burton and advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC.

The plea comes against the backdrop of persistent hints by informed sources that the government has privately, and at the highest level, embarked on a comprehensive rethink about post-TRC processes, a sign that it acknowledged the failures of existing mechanisms and the inherent flaws in the TRC process.

Four years ago, on October 29, 2003, the 55 000-member Khulumani Support Group for apartheid victims formally requested the government provide it with details of its promised community reparations.

In September, it was told in correspondence with the Justice department that no such policy existed.

Concerted efforts by the Sunday Tribune to gain insight from the Presidency and the Justice department into the reparations policy process, and the rethink on post-TRC matters, have been stone-walled.

On Friday, Mabandla gave notice that government intended opposing the New York lawsuits brought by Khulumani and two other groups.

Boraine said the matter “cries out for clarity . . . otherwise, rumour, fear and uncertainty will continue”.

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