Opinionista Oscar Van Heerden 4 March 2020

The past never ended — it’s time for TRC justice to be realised

The TRC process, while admirable, let too many apartheid-era perpetrators off the hook. It’s one thing not to have demanded some Nuremberg-style justice, but it’s quite another to deny it altogether.

Having recently finished listening to a seven-episode podcast series, produced by Open Secrets, aptly named “They killed Dulcie”, I was reminded why the erasure of our fallen heroes will come back to haunt us as a nation.

Justice, it seems, can no longer be postponed or negotiated away. Our people are growing restless and as much as they all support Mandela’s reconciliation and nation-building project of the early 1990s, they are fully aware what the rules were for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). You come forward and speak the truth, confess your sins during the apartheid years and you will perhaps receive amnesty.

I say perhaps, because if the commissioners were not convinced of the truth or if the evidence did not tally with your version of the truth, then amnesty could be withheld. However, if you elected not to come forward and hide the truth because you might be under the mistaken impression that secrets would remain secret, if the truth was found, and you were implicated, you would be prosecuted and perhaps even imprisoned. Those were the rules.

And yet it seems evident now that besides the culprits that did not step forward and own up, our respective leaders in the ANC and the NP also used this matter as a bargaining chip during negotiations in the early 1990s. Hence some perpetrators will seemingly never face justice.

How dare you?

Where does one begin: the Dulcie September assassination, the many other targeted killings, both inside and outside the country? The Cradock Four, when FW de Klerk was Minister of Education? I mention this only because when the four were brutally killed, two of whom were teachers, it is highly unlikely that the then justice minister would have authorised these killings without notifying his Cabinet colleague in education.

It is, of course, encouraging to see that through the efforts of family members and some civil society organisations, a few inquests have been reopened and police and security branch types are now facing their past crimes.

The Simelane, Timol and Neil Aggett cases are refreshing to the nation and hopefully a precedent is being set. Those of you in the ANC and NP who know what you negotiated in this regard during the early 1990s must also feel encouraged to step forward and tell us, the nation, what you agreed to and how best you think we can find closure on such matters. Failure to do so simply means the past has not ended. Our collective memories will forever be haunted by the injustice of history.

We know the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has its hands full with State Capture, corruption and so much more going on, notwithstanding the rebuilding of the internal infrastructure of the NPA that Shamila Batohi had to initiate once she arrived there. I do hope that sooner rather than later we will see and appreciate the benefits of such exercises.

However, history will judge us harshly if we do not give due attention to this matter of justice.

Now the NPA has announced that it will prioritise prosecutions in 15 apartheid-era murders in recent months. The 1985 case of the Cradock Four for instance, in which four anti-apartheid activists were murdered by the apartheid government, is one of the 15 cases that will be investigated and prosecuted. This remains encouraging.

It was the authors, Lukhanyo and Abigail Calata, in their book, My Father Died for This, who said:

“Apartheid is a crime against humanity, yet how many people do we know that have actually gone to jail, that have actually been tried for the crimes that were committed? One. Eugene de Kock. Are you telling me that Eugene de Kock is the only person responsible for [apartheid]?

“There are millions of people who suffered under apartheid who to this day know there hasn’t been justice, they can see it. They can feel it that there’s never been any real sense of justice.”

It’s one thing not to have demanded some Nuremberg-style justice, but it’s quite another to deny it altogether.

It’s like one comrade said the other day: we are simply too accommodating to our white compatriots. We compromise too much to appease them, and what do we get in return? The bulk of the economy still in their hands, the bulk of property still in their hands, the bulk of arrogance and unrepentant attitudes, still in their hands.

What is to be done?

You cannot talk of merit and hard work as whites when you got your ill-gotten spoils from colonialism and apartheid. The economy was divided up between you guys, mining for you and agriculture for you and you and, and, and. The land Act of 1913 was the first time we had expropriation without compensation and today the Institute of Race Relations wants to spearhead a campaign against this so-called injustice. What say they of the 1913 Land Act and its process?

Our people are angry and still feel very much disenfranchised. And so, if you don’t even want to afford them the dignity of finding inner peace and hence justice for the killing of their loved ones, what is the point of it all?

As the Dulcie podcast reminded me, the history of Dulcie has been forgotten, but the worst crime of all is when the ANC erased her memory from our collective minds by allowing her assassination not to be fully investigated and not bringing the responsible ones to book. That was the biggest travesty of our times. And this goes for all those comrades and their families who have equally been erased.

Why not erase the entire future and agree that the past has not ended? It was James Baldwin who said:

“There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment, the time is always now”. DM

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