Tag Archives: amnesty

The Waving Flag and Freedom

19 Jun

K’naan’s evocative lyrics for Waving Flag start with the phrase: “When I get older, I will be stronger/They’ll call me freedom just like a waving flag.”

Many Khulumani members are much older now, but they’re not stronger –many are quite frail – and they’re not experiencing a waving flag of freedom, but ongoing poverty.

Unlike the sanitised  Coca-Cola/World Cup version of the song, the original lyrics to K’Naan’s song, which is a reflection on his own childhood in war-torn Somalia, go on: “so many wars settling scores/bringing us promises, leaving us poor/i heard them say love is the way/love is the answer that’s what they say/but look how they treat us/make us believers make we/fight their battles then they deceive us . . .”

K’maan’s reflection on the broken promises made to his generation could well be sung about the promises made to Khulumani members – they or their families were part of the freedom struggle against apartheid. Promises were made about reparations and that perpetrators who had not received amnesty would be prosecuted. The reparations were not adequate and not what the TRC recommended. Government broke that promise. Government has taken so long to start prosecutions against the perpetrators, that many of these crimes have now “expired”. Only murder does not expire as a crime. Another broken promise of Government. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should have initiated these prosecutions in consultation with the victims of the crimes immediately after the closure of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). They did not, and now they may have delayed too long.

When K’naan sings that “i heard them say love is the way/love is the answer that’s what they say”, in South Africa what they said was “the TRC is the answer”. But many people couldn’t access the TRC, and those that did, have been profoundly let down – not in the least by it’s inability to ensure government followed up and secured adequate justice, tangible reparations and corporate accountability.

For most Khulumani members, those who went to the TRC and those who didn’t, the waving flag of freedom hasn’t “opened happiness” (as Coca Cola may have you believe) but has been only a small victory in the ongoing, everyday struggles for justice. Aluta continua!



19 Jun

Cape Town, June 16, 2010 – Two surviving relatives of apartheid victims have filed an application to intervene in the Constitutional Court case of The Citizen v. McBride as amici curiae.   The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in its ruling against the Citizen newspaper, had earlier held that the granting of amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) removes the conviction “for all purposes” so that anyone who describes such acts as ‘murder’ and any statements referring to an amnesty applicant as a ‘murderer’ would now be considered false and a ground for defamation.

The amicus applicants are Joyce Sibanyoni Mbizana and Mbasa Mxenge. Ms. Mbizana is the sister of Justice Mbizana who was abducted in 1987 by members of the Northern Transvaal Security Branch, tortured and murdered. In 2005, the NPA recovered a black bag of bone fragments. These were the remains of the bodies of the ‘Mamelodi Four’ who had all been underground operatives in and around Mamelodi township, Pretoria / Tshwane. After being killed one by one in front of each other alongside the Pienaars River on the property of a police dog unit, the four bodies were tied together, rigged with explosives and repeatedly detonated. Eight men confessed to participating in Justice’s death and were granted amnesty by the TRC for the “Abduction, Assault and Murder of Justice Mandla Mbizana” in 2003.

Mr. Mbasa Mxenge is the eldest son of the late Griffiths and Victoria Mxenge, who were both human rights lawyers in Durban and who were murdered in separate incidents in the 1980s. In 1981 a hit squad was assembled from the South African Police Force for the specific purpose of killing Griffiths Mxenge.  When Griffiths Mxenge’s body was found, it had more than 45 stab wounds. Three members of the South African Police force were subsequently convicted for Mxenge’s murder.  Following a full confession and testimony to the TRC, all three men were granted amnesty for the murder of Griffiths Mxenge in 2001.

Joyce Sibanyoni Mbizana and Mbasa Mxenge believe that the SCA interpretation of the implications of being a recipient of amnesty is contrary to the spirit and intent of the TRC Act and will limit their ability to speak freely about the murders of their loved ones. Both wish to protect their rights to refer to the killers of their loved ones as murderers.  If the decision of the SCA stands they may face an untenable prospect of being sued for defamation, should they speak or publish the full truth by referring to heir loved ones’ killers as murderers. They will tell the Court that no law may render the truth as false for purposes of public debate and discourse. As amici curiae, they argue that the freedom to speak the truth about the events of the past, should not be suppressed. They hope by their action to preserve the legacy of the negotiated transition, which gave birth to South Africa’s new constitutional order as well as the TRC and its amnesty process that sought to bring the truth to light.

In her application to join the proceedings as an amicus Ms. Mbizana states, “Until the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal in this matter, I enjoyed a right to speak freely about the crimes perpetrated against my brother and in particular I enjoyed and asserted a right to refer to the killers of my brother as murderers.  If the decision of the SCA stands I may face the sanction of a defamation suit should I speak or publish the full truth by referring to my brother’s killers as murderers.”

As amici, Ms. Mbizana and Mr. Mxenge will be allowed to raise issues with the Court through written and oral submissions.  The Constitutional Court is scheduled to hear the matter of The Citizen (1978) (Pty) Ltd and Others v McBride (CCT23/10) on 30 September 2010.

Ms. Mbizana and Mr. Mxenge’s efforts to bring these issues of victims’ rights to the attention of the Constitutional Court affirms that the TRC Act must be interpreted in a way which protects South African society’s right to know and express the truth.  Any attempt to limit this right by removing terms such as ‘murder’ from discussions of the past will result in a falsification of history, undercut the purpose and intent of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and infringe on the “truth as justice” which was offered to victims of the apartheid struggle in exchange for removing criminal and civil liability from perpetrators.

Ms. Mbizana and Mr. Mxenge’ are supported by an alliance of South African civil society organizations comprised of Khulumani Support Group; International Center for Transitional Justice; Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation; South African History Archives; Human Rights Media Centre; and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation;

For more information, please contact

  • Khulumani Support Group: Tshepo Madlingozi on 082 496 9914 / Marjorie Jobson: 082 268 0223
  • International Center for Transitional Justice: Piers Pigou 083 381 7150
  • Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation: Hugo van der Merwe 082 570 0744
  • South African History Archives: Gabriella Razzano 082 780 1903
  • Human Rights Media Centre: Shirley Gunn 082 450 9276
  • Institute for Justice and Reconciliation: Fanie du Toit 083 266 1766

Victims Red Carded for too long…

8 Jun

Victims and survivors of apartheid era gross human rights abuses were red carded by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and by the South African government — especially former President Thabo Mbeki, former Minister of Justice Penuell Maduna, and the officials in the TRC unit in the Department of Justice.

The promise made to victims and survivors was, that by testifying at the TRC and thereby participating in the process which led to the perpetrators receiving amnesty, they would receive reparations. These promises were only partly kept. The TRC’s recommendations for reparations were not accepted by the South African government — in fact only about a sixth of the amount recommended was finally (after five years) granted to those victims who testified at the TRC. But many perpetrators received amnesty and continued to receive it after the TRC officially closed its books.

Victims of apartheid crimes who did not make it to the TRC are to this day not recognised but simply ignored. The South Africa we live in today owes an enormous amount to the victims and survivors of the struggle. Some of these were heroes who have ended up in plush and cushy government jobs — but most have literally been red carded from society and stay out of sight and out of the mind of the South African peoples. Even their comrades have forgotten them.

The victims and survivors were directly and indirectly damaged by the actions of companies supporting the security forces and policies of the apartheid government — such as Daimler, Ford, General Motors, IBM, Rheinmetall and others: including banks and oil companies.

But who should continue to be red carded? The victims? Or the businesses who profitted (hugely) from apartheid?