“If we don’t heed these lessons, we cannot expect not to repeat them.”
By Fanie du Toit*
The Institute for Justice and Reconciliation each year recognises, through its Reconciliation Award, those who make a special effort to bring South Africans together in the spirit of justice and reconciliation.
The 2012/13 laureate, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), has in our view made a significant contribution to national reconciliation through their courageous representation of the interests of victims of the Marikana tragedy in 2012, not only at the Commission of Inquiry but also in the national and international press.
President Zuma appointed the Marikana Commission of Inquiry to investigate “matters of public, national and international concern” arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine on the Platinum Belt’ of the North West Province, which led to the deaths of approximately 44 people, and more than 70 persons being injured.
Earlier this year, just prior to the one year commemoration of the massacre, I visited the Marikana community. It was a sobering experience. It was instantly visible just how short South African memories are when it comes to the TRC and how few of the very hard-learned lessons during the TRC process, are remembered today.
We know from empirical data collected by IJR annually since 2001, that the TRC had made a lasting difference in how ordinary South Africans observe the past, and especially in their common resolve never to accept a racialised or undemocratic government again.
However, observing the Marikana process, the public is left wondering if the TRC legacy made a real difference in the way South Africa is governed. Key to the TRC recommendations, where a whole range of structural and institutional reform measures, carefully detailed, over many pages, for ministries as diverse as land reform, justice, safety and security, police, the military and so forth. There has been no systematic effort of government to account themselves against these recommendations. The Marikana tragedy may be one consequence of ignoring the TRC recommendations to the extent they have been.
It is further a matter of public record that government failed to honour important promises made to victims who came forward to the TRC, both in terms of paying community reparations and of prosecuting those who shunned the amnesty process. So have government taken the TRC lessons as seriously as the South African public appears to have done? It appears not. If we don’t heed these lessons, we cannot expect not to repeat them.
Marikana victims, many of whom had lost breadwinners, were promised reparations directly after the tragedy, just like their TRC counterparts. They continue to await meaningful compensation outside of very limited assistance with funerals and schooling, just like TRC victims continue to wait nearly eleven years after its final report was received by President Mbeki in Parliament.
Lonmin, the company at the centre of this tragedy, has contributed towards some of the school expenses of victim families, although on condition that the child is taken to a boarding school chosen by Lonmin. Out of sheer desperation some families have reportedly sent children as young as four years to boarding school. The broader picture, according to recently released reports, is that Lonmin has a history of repeatedly missing social investment targets aimed at improving living and housing conditions of the miners.
In the Commission itself, victims appear to struggle to make their voices heard and participate fully for a lack of funding, whereas the police, with state money, can afford to hire a whole range of top silks. Consequently, victim participation has been constrained. NGO’s such as SERI are left to fend for victims on a shoestring budget. They were even forced to resort to courts to fight this battle.
Moreover, police reports submitted to the Commission seem to obfuscate more than what they reveal. No real acknowledgement has been forthcoming from the police force that clearly and brazenly overstepped their mark, killing scores of protesting miners in a military-style show of brutal force. Consequently, the Marikana Commission has not yet convinced onlookers that it will be able to deliver the kind of truth that could help victims and society at large understand what precisely had happened or how police brutality of this kind could be averted in the future.
In such a context, where victims and the poor once-again seem to be short-changed, SERI reminds South Africans about the importance of victim-centred justice and of incisive truth-recovery in the aftermath of mass violence, both crucial lessons of the TRC process and now in danger of being forgotten. SERI’s work also reminds us of the dangers of state-induced violence, even in our democratic country, as well as of the increasing importance of responsible and effective public order policing. In the final analysis, SERI reminds us that the fulfilment of socio-economic rights of all South Africans is fundamental to the realisation of national reconciliation.
* Dr Du Toit is Execeutive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation. On 27 November 2013, IJR’s patron Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will hand over the award to SERI at a function in Cape Town. For more information, visit www.ijr.org.za.