Defend Truth


What’s happened to the R2bn in the reparations fund? The state has abandoned our nation-building project


Brett Herron is the Secretary-General of GOOD and a Member of the National Assembly.

After making limited reparations payments 20 years ago to about 17,000 victims named by the TRC, the bulk of the money is sitting in the bank – around R2-billion at the last count.

Nearly three decades after apartheid, the government hasn’t bothered to spend money specially set aside to restore the honour and dignity of individuals and communities ravaged by dehumanising violations of their rights. 

Minister of Justice Ronald Lamola revealed, in response to my recent parliamentary question, that the cash-flush President’s Fund – established after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) to balance the rights of victims with the rights of perpetrators to receive amnesty – had yet to implement a single community project.

The fund was capitalised by the South African state, a clutch of European governments and individuals including the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the TRC. 

After making limited reparations payments about 20 years ago to about 17,000 victims named by the TRC, at a far lower rate than recommended by the commission, the bulk of the money is sitting in the bank – around R2-billion at the last count. 

The fund has covered the costs of exhuming some victims, and educating some victims’ children, but has made little to no progress with its mandate to implement community-based redress, Lamola said. 

The state similarly showed no appetite for the TRC’s recommendations on reinvestigating (with a view to prosecuting) about 300 cases of gross violations of human rights in which the perpetrators did not qualify or apply for amnesty – until recently, when most perpetrators have already died of natural causes.

Although the state’s lack of fiscal integrity has been spectacularly costly, the “big story” in South Africa is not corruption, as many would have you think. The real big story is the lack of post-apartheid redress that has widened inequality, developed a culture of impunity, and placed the country on a socioeconomic powder keg. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Long road to no justice for TRC victims

“Poverty and degradation exist side by side with modern cities and a developed mining, industrial and commercial infrastructure. Our income distribution is racially distorted and ranks as one of the most unequal in the world – lavish wealth and abject poverty characterise our society.” 

That description applies just as much to South Africa today as it did when it was written in the policy framework for the Reconstruction and Development Programme introduced by the first democratic government in 1994.

“But an election victory is only a first step,” the RDP policy framework continued. “No political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty, without land, without tangible prospects for a better life. Attacking poverty and deprivation must therefore be the first priority of a democratic government.”

In March 2022, in its report on inequality in southern Africa, the World Bank noted that South Africa was “the most unequal country in the world”. 

Lack of state integrity

The money in the President’s Fund’s account is by many degrees of magnitude insufficient to have a profound impact on inequality. 

But the fact that it hasn’t been spent represents a breathtaking lack of state integrity, considering the almost total absence of redress for apartheid’s victims, many of whom would have been ANC members and supporters, and that the structure of inequality in South Africa today so closely mirrors that of the exclusionary apartheid economy. 

Lamola denied that the government had deprioritised the process of reconciliation and nation-building. He said the state remained committed to spending the President’s Fund as intended. 

One can but speculate what his predecessor, the late Dullah Omar, would have made of these “reassurances”. 

Introducing the TRC to South Africans in 1995, Omar, then justice minister, said: “I could have gone to Parliament and produced an amnesty law – but this would have been to ignore the victims of violence entirely. We recognised that we could not forgive perpetrators unless we attempt also to restore the honour and dignity of the victims and give effect to reparation.” 

The granting of amnesty to perpetrators of state-sponsored violence was among the trickiest issues those who negotiated South Africa’s transition from apartheid had on their plates. The National Party government wanted a blanket amnesty to ensure none of its people would ever be held accountable, while the liberation movements insisted on accountability in some form. 

Read in Daily Maverick: “Desmond Tutu’s legacy and the TRC: Can truth reconcile a divided nation?

The TRC process was the compromise, but the state – for whatever reasons, best known to it and the National Party, one assumes – chose not to complete the process. 

Ultimately, the President’s Fund was created as a vehicle to effect redress for the depredations of the apartheid security state and bring some balance to the interests of victims and perpetrators of human rights violations. But under the stewardship of the ANC, the quest for balance was abandoned. 

The values that underpinned Dullah Omar’s vision that “we could not forgive perpetrators unless we attempt also to restore the honour and dignity of the victims” have been abandoned. 

As Tina Rosenberg says in her book, The Haunted Land: Facing Europe’s Ghosts After Communism, “for too many governments, dealing with past injustices has been not a way to break free of it, but the first step in its recurrence”. DM


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  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    This is very important information from an MP who has his head on his shoulders. The money may have been earmarked for looting and theft and it is good to have MPs like Brett Herron who are level headed. I have watched him in the Section 194 Committee, and he is the most constructive and independent member who is very objective than the rest. He looks at facts and understands the legal issues that are applicable.
    One hopes that he follows the issue of this money and has helped so that we can get other people to do the same. Because there is no portfolio committee that has oversight over the Presidency, legal processes of disclosure have to be followed even to check if the ANC has not stolen some fair amount including interest. How it survived Zuma is a mystery.

  • sue fry says:

    Thank you Mr Herron, for highlighting this. I have long wondered, what actually happened about the promised redress after the TRC. It’s a tragic shocker! Keep hammering at this, Sir – and perhaps my vote might end up in your direction next time. I am looking hard for a worthy recipient

  • Rehana Moola says:

    The government has repeatedly displayed a lack of concern for the dignity of South Africans, as is evidenced by the lack of essential, basic services, the mistreatment of citizens during the Covid lockdown and the lack of effective policing and security for victims of crime, especially children and GBV victims and whistleblowers. This R2 bn is just more evidence of their disregard. If our humanity and decency are measured by how we treat the weakest members of our society, we are barely human.

  • Bruce Anderson says:

    It is almost past the point of redress. Perhaps these funds should be used to uplift the educational needs of the poorest communities to improve basic education. I know of very few parents who do not make great sacrifices for the education of their children …. Overseen by a body independent of political influence.

  • Richard Baker says:

    Ah Brett-a revealing piece-again confirming ANC distain for the nation and its disadvantaged citizens-but firstly I suggest checking the money is actually still there!

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