Participant feedback meeting Khulumani East Rand

Objectives & Activities

Survivors and families of victims of the political conflict of South Africa’s past formed Khulumani Support Group in 1995. It was set up in response to the pending Truth and Reconciliation Commission by victims who felt the Commission should be used to speak out about the past to ensure that such violations never occur again. During the apartheid era there were many violations of human rights and it is important that we move into the future with all South Africans being aware of the atrocities committed in our past.

We need to expose the truth about disappearances, assassinations, torture and other human rights abuses condoned under the apartheid regime and to identify the perpetrators. The survivors and families of victims of these atrocities must reclaim their dignity and their lives must be restored.

Member Needs Drive the Development of Organisational Objectives

  1. To secure acknowledgment of what happened to victims through ongoing truth-recovery processes. Khulumani uses narrative processes, ‘art and memory’ processes and oral history processes to document these histories and to produce publications, installations and exhibitions. Khulumani’s Apartheid Reparations Database contains the biographies of both those who were harmed and those who sacrificed their lives in the mass struggle against apartheid. The database has informed Khulumani’s litigation against multinational companies, charging them with aiding and abetting the perpetration of gross human rights violations.
  2. To support the collective struggle for social justice to fully realize the achievement of the TRC’s recommendations for rehabilitation and community reparations, and to promote an environment that supports the rule of law, that provides equal access to justice for all citizens and that promotes a culture of accountability. Khulumani pioneered outreach to its members to build capacity in access to and the use of information through the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to try to hold government at local and national levels accountable. Khulumani members have used their information-gathering skills to develop dossiers of information on the cases of the forcibly disappeared to advance the right to have all cases of the ‘disappeared’ investigated by the National Prosecuting Authority. Khulumani members have developed considerable competence in taking forward advocacy on the human rights issues that affect the members of their local communities.
  3. To work for the economic reintegration of victims and survivors through the development of livelihoods activities in partnership with various agencies. The Khulumani framework for member enterprises is linked to activities that meet the social and economic rights contained in the Bill of Rights, such as the right to food, to water and sanitation, to quality education, to a safe and healthy environment, to housing and to accessible quality health care.
  4. To facilitate youth participation in social justice issues. Khulumani has a Forum Theatre group of young people who create pieces about problems and issues in the community as a tool for community participation in problem-solving. Khulumani has facilitated processes to reintegrate former combatants through skills building in computer literacy, in oral history techniques and in community-based research into the practices of companies in different sectors.
  5. To promote justice and reconciliation globally through knowledge exchanges and visits to victims’ groups in countries in the African region and to international meetings where processes for achieving justice and the empowerment of the victims are explored.

Changing environment and campaigns

Khulumani delegation around reparations issues to Office of the President
Khulumani delegation around reparations issues to Office of the President

This period since 2003 has seen several major shifts within Khulumani – both in our interactions with government, and within organizational structures:

1. Interaction with Government

a. Government has moved over the past year towards engaging directly with Khulumani’s management in relation to dealing with issues of victim empowerment, the reintegration of military veterans, and he ongoing consultations with the National Task Team on Presidential Pardons involving the Departments of Justice and Correctional Services.

b. The international law suit was opposed outright by the South African government for several years (although more recently the SA government has accepted that there is some merit in the case) with the 2009 letter of then Minister of Justice Mr Jeff Radebe to the New York court advising it that the South African government wished to see the case proceed because of the violations of international customary law that the lawsuit seeks to address; and

c. Khulumani was asked to engage with re-victimised survivors of human rights violations that have happened after the TRC cut-off point, in areas where our elected state has not brought hoped-for transformation (this includes issues like the Marikana massacre, and service delivery protests in places like Bekkersdal).

2. Changing Khulumani membership base and structures

a. Khulumani has initiated a number of projects for members, aimed at repairing the harm done to people from our apartheid past – under the slogan “turning victims into active citizens”.  These include projects such as: –

Illustration of poverty by Khulumani organizer Nomarussia Bonase 2008
Illustration of poverty by Khulumani organizer Nomarussia Bonase 2008
  • Khulumani Art, Healing and Heritage Workshops, which use art-making to record members’ stories, deepen our understanding of events, provide healing from unresolved trauma (note that our research indicates that government has not provided any trauma counselling or support to apartheid human rights survivors over the past decades), and communicate and commemorate their stories;
  • Projects that provide for co-operative income generation and financial support projects in isolated communities;
  • Projects that are embedded within poor communities and that build capacity for progressively realizing the social and economic rights in the South African Constitution through practical action and through advocacy. This includes participating in activities to address the crisis of access to electricity and to water in local municipalities;
  • Projects which use environmentally-friendly processes for income-generation and community support such as the provision of solar lighting to rural households off the electricity grid;
  • Projects which empower members to access democratic processes available within our society today, such as information access through PAIA requests, and legal recourse for improper administrative processes;
  • Projects to address stigma and discrimination embedded in our communities, around issues such as gender, HIV, and xenophobia
Khulumani workshop participants visit graves of students killed in 1986 by police Aliwal North
Khulumani workshop participants visit graves of students killed in 1986 by police Aliwal North

b. Developing organizational structures which build membership input and interaction – notably, the KARD database system which records members’ statements about human rights violations and resulting hardships.

c. The membership base itself has changed its nature

  • Activist members have died and fallen ill in the long period waiting for government implementation
  • Over time, larger numbers of our members comprise people who were completely left out of the TRC processes (leading to demands that the broad process of acknowledged “victim lists” needs to be reassessed)
  • Issues facing “second generation” damage from human rights violation increasingly come to the fore (these include youth who have lost parents, suffered from families mired in poverty, unable to access education, or been traumatised by unresolved injustice witnessed or inflicted upon family members – there is increasing evidence that this are drivers of domestic violence, drug use, and other crime in heavily impacted communities). Towards building local knowledge in relation to the transgenerational transmission of trauma and humiliation, Khulumani has hosted a Masters’ student for her thesis on the situation of children and grandchildren of struggle veterans.

Khulumani’s Participation in Networks / Coalitions

  1. Khulumani is a member of the Know Your Constitution Campaign and the Working Group on Constitutional and Human Rights for advancing constitutional literacy and human rights awareness. This is based at Constitution Hill and works to promote community awareness of the power of using the rights protected in the Constitution for advancing community struggles related in particular to ending discrimination and to advancing social and economic rights.
  2. Khulumani has become one of five national organisations invited to participate formally in the National VEP Forum of the Department of Social Development.
  3. Khulumani is a member of the National Steering Committee towards the development of a National Action Plan on Gender, Peace and Security in South Africa (towards the implementation of UN Resolution 1325)
  4. Khulumani has partnered the Centre for Human Rights and the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable in efforts to develop a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and to promote compliance with the Ruggie Guiding Principles in local community struggles.
  5. Khulumani serves on the Gauteng Provincial Steering Committee on Military Veterans set up to organize to meet the needs of military veterans registered on the Gauteng database of the Department of Military Veterans.
  6. Khulumani has been an implementing partner of the Ekurhuleni Metro Municipality’s Graduate Intern Placement Programme to assist in placing young graduates in workplaces for work experience and career development.
  7. Khulumani has been a founding member of the South African No Torture Consortium (SANTOC) along with the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the Institute for the Healing of Memories, the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture and the Solidarity Peace Trust. Its work has established a solid foundation for the continuing efforts to expose torture in our region. SANTOC works to prevent torture, to prosecute those who torture and to rehabilitate survivors of torture through psychosocial services.
  8. The PAIA Civil Society Network comprised a range of organizations that promote the right of access to information, a right protected in the South African Constitution. The organizations involved are the South African History Archive, the South African Human Rights Commission, the Open Democracy Advice Centre, the Centre for Social Accountability at Rhodes University, the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Black Sash, the Centre for Environmental Rights, the Endangered Wildlife Trust, the Freedom of Expression Institute, Legal Resources Centre, Media Monitoring Africa, Open Society Foundation, Public Services Accountability Monitor, Social Economic Rights Institute, South African Litigation Centre, University of Witwatersrand and Vaal Environmental Justice Alliance. Khulumani has focused on developing community-based skills in access to information through its victim empowerment programme. The network promotes and protects the “right to know” and the “right to information”.  
  9. The Access Initiative National Coalition for South Africa succeeded in its campaign for the establishment of an alternative dispute resolution mechanism in the form of an office of Information Commissioner to handle the public’s complaints on decisions made in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act No.2 of 2000 (PAIA); for the establishment of a publically accessible Integrated Environmental Management Information Portal to provide processes for planning, managing and providing access to environmental data sets to enable citizens to monitor environmental impact assessments and other processes that may affect their living conditions and circumstances; and to strengthen mechanisms to provide effective protection for whistleblowers through creating public awareness about the new guidelines on the Protected Disclosures Act No.26 of 2000 (PDA), through supporting the adoption at the National Economic Development and Labour Council of a Code of Conduct on the PDA and through promoting the amendment of the PDA to widen its scope to include non-employees towards making whistle-blowing a normal activity, rather than ‘a heroic deed or a villainous pursuit.’ 
  10. The Open Government Partnership has informed Khulumani’s work in promoting the implementation of citizen-based monitoring of government budgets and plans to build greater openness and responsiveness of the state in its relationship with citizens.
  11. The South African Coalition for Transitional Justice comprising Khulumani Support Group, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, the International Center for Transitional Justice, the Human Rights Media Centre, the Legal Resources Centre, and the South African History Archives, was transformed into a Collaboraive Platform for Advocacy on the Unresolved Issues related to Transitional Justice at a meeting of all the member organisations. The agenda has included dealing with political pardons, with political prosecutions, with enforced disappearances, with reparations and with the socio-economic transformation of the lives of victims / survivors. The Coalition has successfully challenged and won lawsuits against government in relation to the special dispensation on prosecutions and on political pardons as well as on the meaning of being granted amnesty and its implications. The Coalition has had several workshops with officials of the government to inform government policy planning in relation to issues of transitional justice.
  12. The Business and Human Rights Project Partnership involving the former African Institute for Corporate Citizenship, Fair Trade in Tourism, the National African Farmers’ Union, the Benchmarks Foundation and Khulumani Support Group produced a manual for use by communities in assessing the compliance of local and international corpporates with international norms and standards in respect of human rights and business. The collaboration resulted in the development of a local version of the Human Rights Compliance Assessment that was developed by the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Khulumani has continued to use this instrument in its work involving the empowerment of communities to monitor and report on the impact of corporate activities on communities affected by their operations and to monitor violations of international human rights standards by companies.
  13. Khulumani was a founder member of the Right to Know Campaign and continues to support R2K campaigns and advocacy to promote transparency and accountability based on access to information.
  14. The Southern African Network on Enforced Disappearances. Khulumani has been a local anchor organisation for the civil society work on enforced disappearances and has developed some limited contact with African regional organisations including with ASADHO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Khulumani’s advocacy adviser has been a trainer in approaches to resolving enforced disappearances in Burundi and Zimbabwe. Extensive work remains to be done across Africa on this issue. Khulumani has developed a manual of psychosocial processes for using with families affected by enforced disappearances, a booklet on how to investigate an enforced disappearance and a series of story boards that explain the steps involved in resolving enforced disappearances. Khulumani has been active in the successful lobbying for the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances as a member of the International Coalition against Enforced Disappearances.

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