‘We won’t leave’ – ageing apartheid victims continue sit-in to demand reparations
‘No reparations, no vote,’ said several Khulumani Support Group activists demanding long-delayed compensation for apartheid-era victims and survivors of human rights violations.
As rainy weather and biting cold gripped much of the country, senior citizens between the ages of 60 and 80, many battling chronic illnesses, found themselves on the chilly, hard ground outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg.
This week, they sat huddled under plastic sheeting in a week-long protest – an annual cry for recognition and redress.
They are part of a larger group of victims and survivors of apartheid abuses who claim to have received no reparations, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearings that aimed to right historical wrongs.
Read in Daily Maverick: Senior activists demand reparations for victims of apartheid
25 years of waiting
The 29th of October 2023 marked 25 years since the TRC handed its report on apartheid crimes and atrocities to former president Nelson Mandela.
At least 17,000 of the 21,000 victims included in the TRC report benefited from the reparation process, out of millions of black South Africans who suffered under apartheid rule.
These beneficiaries are each said to have received compensation ranging from R10,000 to a maximum of about R30,000 in one-off payments.
Figures from the Department of Justice and Correctional Services reveal that, as of 30 September 2023, R805,159,080 has been paid in reparations to TRC-identified beneficiaries across several categories:
- Interim reparation – R53,165,325
- Final reparation – R497,708,781
- Exhumation and reburial – R4,997,257
- Higher education and training – R129,174,450
- Basic education – R120,113,267
The President’s Fund, established to make reparations to victims of human rights abuses during apartheid, held R2-billion at the last count.
The administration of this fund falls under the purview of the TRC Unit within the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Nearly R2-billion for apartheid reparations remain unallocated and unspent
Following the TRC’s recommendations, the fund was created to provide reparations in six categories:
- Once-off individual grants to apartheid victims.
- Educational support for victims and their families.
- Housing provision for victims.
- Financial assistance for exhumations and reburials of deceased victims.
- Access to healthcare.
- Rehabilitation of communities severely affected by apartheid.
However, a majority of the Khulumani Support Group (KSG) members claim to have not received any form of compensation.
‘No reparation, no vote’
KSG Gauteng chairperson, Nomarussia Bonase, said: “We trusted that the TRC report would be the first step in repairing the damage, but today we still demand redress, justice and reparation for apartheid crimes.
“For two decades, the government has failed to address this issue. Promises are made but not kept. We, as Khulumani members, have decided that we will not vote in the upcoming 2024 elections until our needs are met.
“We will not leave the Constitutional Court. If it means making our stand here, we are prepared to do so. We have already lost one of our own while protesting here last year.”
The KSG represents at least 57,000 victims and survivors around the country who are demanding reparations. They insist the government has not delivered on its promises according to the TRC report and recommendations.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Determined survivors of apartheid-era atrocities describe their anguish of being forgotten and ignored
Many of the protesters say they deserve reparations and that the list provided by the TRC does not include all the victims.
For KSG member Thabo Daniel Shabangu (60), the delay in receiving reparations feels like re-victimisation, as he is forced to carry the physical and emotional scars of the past.
“I bear numerous bullet wounds… some with bullets still embedded in my body, serving as painful reminders of the suffering I endured during the liberation struggle,” he recounted.
Nomarussia Bonase added, “I have to live with the fact that my mother was raped while pregnant with me. She was left in a critical condition and both our lives were in jeopardy. She was rushed to Baragwanath Hospital for urgent care, and I survived the attack.
“The trauma of apartheid marked my existence before I even entered this world. The government must provide reparations now, even if only as an interim measure, while they work on a long-term plan for disbursement.”
Chrispin Phiri, spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services, commented on the disbursement of reparations: “The department’s mandate is limited to persons identified by the TRC as victims of gross human rights violations.
“This includes victims who made statements to the Commission, those named in statements by relatives or others, and those identified through the amnesty process.
“The Department is not authorised to extend reparations to individuals beyond these TRC-defined criteria. However, the community rehabilitation programme, one of the TRC Parliament-approved recommendations, may also benefit victims who suffered intense violence in the past, regardless of their TRC status.”
Phiri said the department conducts annual roadshows to support TRC-identified victims, including the elderly and victims in remote communities. He acknowledged civil society’s concerns, particularly from the Khulumani Support Group, regarding the exclusion of many apartheid victims from TRC restitution.
Phiri emphasised the department’s commitment to engaging with stakeholders to deliver services to TRC-identified victims.
“The Department is committed to ensuring cordial stakeholder engagements to deliver services to the TRC-identified victims,” he said.
Daily Maverick understands that only the Presidency can adjust the list of victims entitled to reparations to include those who may have been excluded by the commission.
The Presidency referred Daily Maverick’s queries back to the Department of Justice. It has often failed to respond to Khulumani Support Group enquiries.
Dozens of members of the KSG remain camped outside the Constitutional Court, resolute in their pursuit of justice.
Their resilience serves as a stark reminder that the wounds of apartheid run deep and will not heal without the reparations they have long been promised.
But time is running out, especially for the elderly victims who promise to keep fighting. DM