Apartheid victims in the lurch

Reparations: The state paid out R550m to South Africans who bear scars of the previous regime's atrocities, but many have not yet seen a cent of it

02 August 2017 - 06:46 By Farren Collins and Daniel Meyer
NO SURRENDER Thamsanqa Zitha has still not been compensated for the torture he endured during apartheid and is calling for answers from the current governmentPicture: Moeletsi Mabe
NO SURRENDER Thamsanqa Zitha has still not been compensated for the torture he endured during apartheid and is calling for answers from the current governmentPicture: Moeletsi Mabe

When Thamsanqa Zitha returned to South Africa after over a decade in exile, he reached out to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hoping to gain an audience.

Zitha, a former operative for the ANC and PAC military wings, had been kidnapped and tortured by apartheid government colonel and assassin Eugene de Kock’s Death Squad in 1984.

He should have been entitled to compensation for the crimes committed against him by the former government, but now Zitha is one of an estimated 80 000 people who the Khulumani Support Group say have not benefited from a special reparations fund that currently holds over R1,5-billon.

The Justice Department has refused to divulge what exactly this money will be used for.

The President’s Fund was established - under the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 34 of 1995 - after the TRC recommended that reparations be paid out to apartheid victims who had made successful submissions to the commission.

By 2005 nearly 17 000 people had received at least R30,000 each to compensate for atrocities they had experienced under the oppressive regime.

“If I had known (about the fund) I would have gone to them, but not to accept the R30,000. I would have gone as an opposition, because what good is R30,000 for what I’ve gone through? I would ask them to pay for my education that I missed, my medical expenses. How can they give me only R30,000 when I pay R5,000 a month for medicine?” Zitha said.

“You could count the bones on my body; I was so thin and weak. I couldn’t even walk. The people who were taking care of me were scared for my life,” Zitha told The Times.

“I never got a response from the TRC. I wrote out my whole autobiography for them.”

Marjorie Jobson, National Director for Khulumani, the country’s largest support group for apartheid victims, said the process set up by the commission was biased toward “privileged victims” and ignored thousands who could not make submissions due to their circumstances. 

“[Victims] who got it are people who lived largely in the cities, had access to transport, had capacity to find the statement takers and had TV or radio to know where they would be," Jobson said.

Mthunzi Mhaga, spokesperson for the Department of Justice, where the fund is administered, would not confirm how the remainder of the fund would be spent, and said that the department was not mandated to assist new applicants.

"An individual  need to have made a statement to the TRC or have [their] name mentioned in specific incidents to be declared a victim." 

Mhaga said an amount of R550-million was paid out to victims in respect of reparations in line with the regulations contained in the 1995 law.

Under the regulations government also paid out around R11-million for education for victims and their families, and over R1-million for exhumation and reburial of deceased victims.

Some victims who received R30,000 from the fund say the payout has made little difference.

"What can you do with R30,000 if you are not working?...The government let us down," said Emson Banda, who lost the use of his right eye and struggles to walk after being wrongfully arrested and beaten by apartheid police in 1987.

Jobson said that many victims ended up paying back the money to government because of utility debts they had accumulated.

“All of those who wanted to get a chance in life have missed the bus,” she said.

“And if this society is going to be built on a foundation of justice they need to be recognised in a registration process and they need to get compensation.”

Khulumani has ongoing advocacy on national justice issues related to the "unfinished business" of the TRC, as well as local issues "where we try access funding depending on the issues such as support from the Water Research Commission for developing a citizen's water science".