March 21, 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: TRC Final Report handed over to Mbeki

South Africa's official post mortem on the pain caused by apartheid formally ended on Friday, March 21, when the last portion of a report on the matter was handed to the government.

Presenting the final two volumes to President Thabo Mbeki in Pretoria, Truth and Reconciliation Commission chairman Archbishop Desmond Tutu pronounced the exercise a major success. "This has ensured that we avoid a disastrous racial conflict that would have cost the lives of many people," he said.

The TRC was mandated by the government to uncover the truth about gross human rights violations during the apartheid years. Its work started on Reconciliation Day, December 16, in 1995 and officially ended on Friday, March 21, the Human Rights Day. Since its first hearings in 1996 the TRC has heard evidence from tens of thousands of victims and perpetrators, granted amnesty to 1,200 people, but refused to give amnesty to 5,500 other applicants. Providing full disclosure of crimes and proving that they were politically motivated were critical to successfully applying for amnesty from the TRC.

The final report, including 22,000 case summaries, was delayed by a legal challenge brought by the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). The IFP for years fought a bloody turf war with supporters of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) during apartheid. The IFP instituted legal action after the TRC presented its report to former president Nelson Mandela on 29 October 1998. The report described the IFP, under the leadership of Mangosuthu Buthelezi, as the "primary non-state perpetrator ... responsible for approximately 33 percent of all the violations reported to the commission". Buthelezi took umbrage and a settlement was presented to court in which the TRC agreed to certain changes to its final report. It also agreed to include an appendix to the agreement in which the IFP and its leader could express their views about the changes to the report. However, the IFP still maintains that the final TRC report is a "flawed product of a flawed process conducted with flawed motives", its national chairman was quoted as saying on Friday.

The completion of the report opens the way for the compensation of apartheid victims to get underway in earnest. So far, the government has made reparation payments totalling R50-million to about 18000 South Africans. It has said a long-term approach to reparations would be finalised once the TRC has submitted its final report. The TRC places heavy emphasis on reparations in its final report, warning: "Amnesty without an effective reparations and rehabilitation programme would be a gross injustice." Tutu added victims of human rights violations had waited far too long. "We pray that our nation will consider the R3-billion or so which the TRC proposal is estimated to cost, money well spent and in a very real sense cheap at the price." Justice Minister Penuell Maduna said the government had about R900-million available for reparations.

The reparation committee suggests several ways to generate money for reparations. It proposes that a once-off wealth tax be imposed to help compensate victims of apartheid. This should come out of the pocket of South African business and industry. The committee says voluntary contributions by business have been disappointing so far. The Business Trust set up for this purpose has so far received about R800-million from the private sector. "This is a paltry amount when one considers the massive amount needed to repair the inequities and damage caused to entire communities." The committee also reminds government of its obligations. "Today, when the government is spending so substantial a portion of its budget on submarines and other military equipment, it is unconvincing to argue that it is too financially strapped to meet at least this minimal commitment."

A case could also be made out for reparation contributions from Swiss banks, which the committee argues profited from apartheid over decades and helped to prolong the system. "Swiss banks are not the only lenders whose support for and enrichment under apartheid may provide grounds for reparations," says the committee. "British, German, French and North American banks are among those that financed Pretoria during the 1970s and 1980s."

Mbeki said the government would respond to the TRC's recommendations as soon as possible, including those on final reparations. (SAPA / Johannesburg, IRIN)

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