Opinionista Oscar Van Heerden 31 May 2018

Restorative Justice denied – was the TRC a farce?

The emphasis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on hearing the truth and forgiveness over ensuring that justice prevailed has left many people and particularly black people, disappointed.

I was recently asked whether I would facilitate a number of panels at this year’s Franschhoek Literary Festival. Who wouldn’t want to interact with fine writers, creative thinkers and thought leaders from all walks of life in such a beautiful place situated in the Franschhoek Valley and the Cape Winelands?

One of the three panels dealt with the book My Father Died for This written by Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata. It was to be a very emotional interaction to say the least.

The book deals with two significant events in the life of Lukhanyo in particular.

First was the unfortunate events surrounding the eight journalists that were suspended from the public broadcaster, the SABC, following their refusal to censor the news to favour the then president Jacob Zuma and the ruling party the ANC at that time. Basically, they were instructed by their respective bosses to report favourably towards the ANC and its President and not to cover, in any real depth, protest action and dissenting views throughout the country.

They refused, citing that to do so would be a blatant return to the dark days of apartheid censorship and the public broadcaster being a mouthpiece for the given ruling party of the day. They also refused because it was a blatant violation of some of our most basic rights that remain enshrined in our Constitution and our Bill of Rights.

But the then CEO at the SABC, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who has since been found by a court to be unfit to hold his position at the SABC, took a rather dim view of this protest action by these journalists and instructed that they be suspended and finally fired from their jobs.

Little did he know that one of the persons who were subjected to this unfair labour practice and embarrassment was none other than the son of Fort Calata, a martyr of our struggle. Or that his great grandfather was none other than Canon James Arthur Calata, the longest serving Secretary-General of the ANC and a Rivonia trialist.

Now, Lukhanyo should not necessarily receive special treatment because of such a rich family history, however, we as a nation owe our collective gratitude to such families and should say thank you to them for serving us during the anti-apartheid struggle. Thank you for your sacrifice. We owe you and your family a great debt as a nation.

We should say this to all that have made sacrifices over the decades and who have fought against the evil of apartheid in whatever small measure, be it through active activism, unionism, detention, imprisonment, exiled, anti-apartheid movement activities or whether you or a loved one paid the ultimate sacrifice, death. To all, we say a collective thank you for serving.

The second significant event in Lukhanyo’s life was the tragic assassination of his father, Fort Calata, together with three other comrades in the Cradock area in the Eastern Cape in 1985. Matthew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkhonto, Sicelo Mhlauli and Fort were abducted while on their way back from an important meeting in Port Elizabeth, when they were intentionally and with premeditated intent brutally killed and their bodies burnt so as to hide their true identity.

They became known as the Cradock Four.

Two – Mkhonto and Mhlauli’s – bodies were found in different parts of a dump near Bluewaterbay. Goniwe and Calata’s bodies were found only days later in the same area, after the families insisted, police and other services continue their search. The Cradock Four was eventually buried in Cradock on 20 July 1985 and Reverend Beyers Naude and Reverend Alan Boesak presided over the funeral service, to which tens of thousands of mourners came, regardless of the “banning order” from the apartheid state. This was a turning point in the struggle against the evil apartheid system.

Now, given the circumstances surrounding the killings, an inquest was launched, albeit reluctantly, into the matter. The outcome of this inquest was inconclusive according to the powers that be at the time. But the family did not rest and pushed very hard post 1990 for another official inquest be launched, so as to seek justice for this tragic event. The then judge found that the suspicious circumstances surrounding the case pointed to State and police involvement but insufficient evidence suggested that no specific persons can be held accountable for this heinous crime. The family was yet again devastated by this outcome. Again justice eluded the Cradock Four families.

With the advent of democracy in 1994 and the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, there was renewed hope that the guilty persons would come forward and reveal the truth about those fateful days running up to the brutal assassination of the four comrades.

The guilty men took up the offer to come forward and confess their involvement. They acknowledged that indeed they were the ones that executed this evil act and that they also subsequently killed the two black police officers that were with them on the day because they threatened to “reveal it all” some years back already, and hence they too had to be permanently removed from society, just like Fort Calata and the others. They informed us that they received a communiqué signal from Pretoria, in particular from the Minister of Justice at the time that indicated that Goniwe and Fort were becoming a significant problem in that part of the country and that they must be permanently removed from society. Now, both Goniwe and Fort were very dedicated and good teachers at the local school at the time and guess who was the then Minister of Education? FW de Klerk. I mention this because the second inquest took place under his administration post 1990.

I think we can safely assume that if the Minister of Justice takes such a grave decision, as to permanently remove individuals from society, he would have to consult with his counterpart in education because the disappearance of two teachers will give rise to uncomfortable questions from various quarters and in no small measure from community structures. But I will leave that up to you to decide.

The perpetrators at the TRC were found to not be wholly truthful and as such their application for amnesty was declined. I also think that there was perhaps more of an emphasis placed on hearing the truth and forgiveness since the process was chaired by the honourable Archbishop Desmond Tutu, than ensuring justice prevailed by insisting and following through on those cases where persons were not granted amnesty. Sadly, this is where the TRC process disappointed in particular our black people to this day.

Many cases were left unresolved and hence no restorative justice was received by the aggrieved parties, and in this case, the Calata family once again received no justice and were left disappointed, this time by a democratic government and a democratic dispensation. Instead, government officials told the family in no uncertain terms that they must “move on” and that many other priorities exist and hence very little remains that they can do for the family. They even went as far as saying that limited resources are also a contributory factor to why they cannot further pursue this matter.

Let me be very clear, our democratic government has told victims of apartheid era atrocities, that they must rather forgive and forget and hence, move on.

We do not know what gave rise to the Ahmed Timol and Nokhutula Simelane inquest respectively being reopened in recent times but at least these families will find some comfort in the knowledge that justice will finally prevail and that they will find out the whole truth.

Why then can the same not occur for the Calata family? What is it about the Cradock Four that we cannot be exposed to or find out the truth?

The perpetrators, after confessing their wrongdoing at the TRC, are still roaming free in South Africa today while the families of the four men remain not knowing what happened to their fathers, husbands, brothers or uncles.

Surely, this cannot be right?

As South Africans, both black and white, we bought into and accepted Mandela’s reconciliation approach post 1990 but where you were found wanting in the TRC process and amnesty was not granted to you, restorative justice was supposed to be the next step. Why has this not happened?

Let us not allow these wounds to fester and inadvertently give rise to hatred amongst our people once again. Let us encourage our government to make the right decisions and to do what is the only right thing to do.

In order to build a nation, we must begin with healing.

In the name of restorative justice, let the healing begin. DM

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