On National Reconciliation Day, 16 December 2013, Khulumani Calls for ‘a Revolution of Restitution’ as the Basis for Reconciliation

Nelson Mandela greets children on a visit to Eerste River township in Cape Town in November 2000. Nelson Mandela greets children on a visit to Eerste River township in Cape Town in November 2000. Image:

In the many tributes to former President Nelson Mandela since his passing on 5 December 2013, attention has focused on Mandela's stated mission of liberating both the oppressed and the oppressor from the impact of racist rule in what has been interpreted as a "triumph of forgiveness". Sadly the relationship between oppressor and oppressed remains largely untransformed at this time of Mandela's passing.

It is true that Mandela emerged from prolonged imprisonment without rancour and set about trying to unite people across social boundaries. This commitment led Mandela to compromise some tenets of the Freedom Charter that he had helped to construct. One of the political necessities Mandela faced was that of "sealing a deal with global capital" - a deal that has contributed to deepening poverty, widening inequality and the economic exclusion of almost half the country's population, all realities that Mandela abhorred.

Mandela's government also compromised by agreeing to honour the apartheid debt of some R50 billion at a time when funds were sorely needed for reconstruction in South Africa. This action created a devastating precedent for the new incumbents of power in all subsequent political transitions since 1994.

Reconciliation has been rendered 'cheap' in South Africa

The failure to deal with the deepening impoverishment of many contributors to the anti-apartheid struggle, has brought the focus back to the fact that Archbishop Tutu's call in the foreword to the 1998 Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), for the emergence of a necessary "social dynamic that includes redressing the suffering of victims of apartheid injustice", has not yet been realized.

Attention has turned again to the actions of South Africa's white population. Professor Sharlene Swartz of the Human Sciences Research Council, explains that the "beneficiaries of apartheid still enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world. The richest 20% in South Africa have a Human Development Index rank 101 places above the poorest 20%, placing them on the same standard of living as the wealthiest countries of the global north." Research by NALEDI, the National Labour & Economic Development Institute, reveals that "the average 'white' household earns six times that of the average 'black' household."

The journalist, Mondli Makhanya points out that the white South African population, "while praising Mandela's unification of the nation, makes little effort to fully live in the country he built" (The Debt Whites Owe, City Press, 15 December 2013). He suggests that white South Africans should honour Mandela by doing more than merely embracing Mandela's reconciliation philosophies and that they should show some gratitude for what Mandela did by contributing to the material aspects of restitution so that a life of decency and dignity can become reality for everyone in the country. Instead very little has changed in the impoverished circumstances of many peoples' lives - a sad anti-climax to the once proud anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. But it is not only white South Africans that can be accused of this failure. The post-apartheid government has also failed to embrace measures of restitution and reparations for its citizens who "fought for freedom and justice" in the country. (Preamble to the Constitution).

Mandela recognized all who fought for the same cause as himself

In a meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on 25 February 2009, Mandela explained that “there were hundreds and hundreds of known and unknown people who fought for the same cause” (as himself).1

He was fully aware that it was not only those who “carried weapons” who were struggle veterans, but also many hundreds of others who suffered gross human rights violations in the struggle. Many of these individuals were unable to reach the TRC and remain excluded to the present from the state’s duty of reparation and restitution. The basis of this exclusion is the adherence by the Department of Justice to an arbitrary administrative decision to only include those who managed to reach the TRC, in reparations provisions.

This means that the Constitutional Court decision to approve the denial of the right of victims to pursue civil prosecutions against those who had harmed them on the grounds that they would receive compensatory reparations, has been undermined by the failure of the state to develop an inclusive reparations programme.

The state proposes to deviate Victims’ Reparations Funding to the IDT

A further undermining of the exchange provided in the trade-off between amnesty and reparations has been the publication by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development on 29 November 2013 of draft regulations on community rehabilitation that propose to make the dedicated fund for victim rehabilitation, The President’s Fund, available to the Independent Development Trust (IDT) for use in township infrastructure renovation in the name of victims.

The IDT as this time is a parastatal institution in serious difficulties, having had its funding from the National Treasury substantially reduced as a result of its inability to deliver on a number of recent state contracts. By its own admission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Public Works, the institution is in trouble and its future and that of its 400 employees are in question.

It is unacceptable to the thousands of victims of apartheid gross human rights violations who have yet to be formally recognized and provided with reparation and restitution, as it is to the 16,000 individuals who were identified by the TRC, that the only funds to have been dedicated to victim rehabilitation should be used to ‘bail out’ a failing institution with a poor performance record.

Honouring the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

As Khulumani marked the fifteenth anniversary of the handing over to President Mandela of the final TRC Report on 29 October 1998, Khulumani members committed to intensifying their struggle to achieve reconciliation based on justice and restitution in contrast to the abandonment they have experienced at the hands of the post-apartheid government. The honouring of Mandela’s legacy requires a return to commitments that were made.

Political scientist, Professor John Saul, has called the outcome of the various ‘betrayals’ a ‘Flawed Freedom’. He has written that the “struggle against apartheid had been waged much more threateningly by mass popular organizations on the shop floor and in the townships than it had by any military resistance mounted from exile by the ANC.” Khulumani members were members of these mass popular organisations. Their continued exclusion from reparations and restitution measures remains a stain on the legacy of President Mandela.

Declaring a Year of Victim-Driven Action for Restitution and Reconciliation

Commencing today, 16 December 2013, Khulumani will be conducting a year of intensified advocacy for reparations and restitution as a means to achieve a just, inclusive and reconciled society in which all people are provided with the means to reach their fullest potential.

This was the vision that inspired Nelson Mandela. It is the vision that inspires the members of Khulumani Support Group.


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