Citizens urged to step up for change

MATTHEW HIRSCH

With April being Freedom Month, now is an important time for citizens to not only reflect on successes but also step up and work for change. This was one of the key messages at a discussion hosted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), marking the 20th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The first TRC hearings, chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, were held at the East London City Hall on April 15 1996.

The talk, “Reconciliation and Betrayal”, came just a few days before Freedom Day which was marked on Wednesday April 27, and, according to the Gardens-based institute, is the first in a series of discussions on some of the TRC’s successes and failures.

The IJR’s Carolin Gomula said the institute was established in 2000 to continue the work of the TRC.

“We have had successes and failures. It is an important time to work with national and local stakeholders. Other African countries that have gone through similar transition processes have come to learn from us (the IJR) and we have also learned from them,” she said.

Some of the challenges the country still faces, said Ms Gomula, were inequality, institutionalised racism and poor access to education.

“We have developed extensive training in communities. One of the key issues going forward will be that of inequality. We are also involved in the Anti-Racism Network. It is important to have these honest engagements.”

Chumile Sali, of the Social Justice Coalition (which was started in 2008 in Khayelitsha as a response to xenophobic attacks), said reconciliation would not be fully realised until the high levels of inequality were addressed.

Mr Sali, who was speaking at the event at the IJR on Monday, used Khayelitsha as a case study.

“If you look at the people living in Khayelitsha, half the people are living in informal settlements. Clinching reconciliation is not possible if we are living in such an unequal society. There is still a great number of people who are earning less than R1 500 – that is not a living wage.”

He said there were five million unemployed people in South Africa, according to Stats SA and 3.4 million of them were young.

“This is the indication of a disaster. We are living with a ticking time bomb. We were unprepared for movements like Fees Must Fall, but it is a microcosm of society as a whole.”

Mr Sali said the TRC had been a necessary process but true reconciliation remained elusive.

“There have been successes in the last 22 years (since the first democratic elections). It would be untrue to suggest otherwise. But there are people who were living in shacks during apartheid who still are. We have yet to deal with the issue of poverty.”

There would only be true reconciliation when these issues were addressed.

He said the Social Justice Coalition would occupy the Nyanga police station on Freedom Day to protest against the police’s continued failings in the area, despite the findings of the Khayelitsha Commission in 2014 which pointed to apartheid-style inequality in the allocation of policing resources to the high-crime neighbourhood.

The commission found that in areas like Rondebosch, there were 173 citizens per police officer. But areas like Nyanga, which is considered to be the murder capital of Cape Town, there were more than 1000 citizens per police officer. “Black people are still subject to poor service. They are reconciling with their poverty,” said Mr Sali.

Fani du Toit, director of the IJR, said while it would be unwise to overlook the TRC’s successes, there had been a failure to follow through. He also criticised the apartheid regime’s leaders for failing to step up and take personal responsibility.

“Personal responsibility was something that was overlooked and that is an unfinished conversation. There is a betrayal by the self but also a betrayal by the other.”

He said we might have been living in a different, more united country, had there had been a more comprehensive follow through with the TRC’s recommendations.