Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
I have tremendous respect for Mrs Graca Machel and for the work she is doing through The Elders to protect women and children in our country and on our continent. I was therefore intrigued by her thoughts on violence in South Africa and how we might benefit from a second Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Delivering the second annual Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture at the University of the Western Cape this week, Mrs Machel spoke of the TRC as a moment for victims and perpetrators to look each other in the eye, and face the painful truth. Perhaps, she said, we need a similar institution again to deal with the great hurt we are inflicting on one another through rape and violence.
The premise that such initiative would bring healing in our society is predicated on the assumption that the first TRC brought reconciliation to South Africa. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Mrs Machel pointed out how many of our people still carry the wounds and scars of Apartheid and “We are harming one another because we can’t control our pain.”
I would like to believe that if a rapist were forced to look his victim in the eye, he would be inescapably struck by the intrinsic right to human dignity and security, and feel the overwhelming burden of remorse. But we know that, more often than not, rapists and abusers do look their victims in the eye, for in most cases they are not strangers, but family members or family friends.
Thus there is something lacking in the formula of bringing victims and perpetrators together in a formal environment. Perhaps we need to consider why the first TRC failed to establish reconciliation in our nation.
There is a popular misconception that the IFP refused to participate in the TRC process. On the contrary, we made a comprehensive submission, detailing the murders of some 400 IFP leaders and office bearers who were killed in a systematic plan of assassination during the internecine low intensity civil war waged by the ANC against other components of the liberation struggle. To date, none of those 400 murders has been solved.
I also appeared before the TRC, but I was not prepared to ask for amnesty, for I had done nothing wrong. I publicly stated that if I had committed any crime or had orchestrated any criminal acts, the State should charge me. When it comes to those political leaders who did seek amnesty, the TRC process ensured that we will never know the details of the criminal acts for which amnesty was sought.
The family of Mr Steve Biko described the TRC as “a vehicle for political expediency”. I was a Minister in President Mandela’s Cabinet when he informed us of his decision to appoint Archbishop Desmond Tutu as Chairperson of the TRC. Cabinet records will show that I objected even then, for the success and the credibility of the TRC depended on non-partisan leadership. Archbishop Tutu was aligned with the ANC and was a former patron of the UDF. How could the IFP expect fairness in the TRC process?
In the end, the TRC could not find one shred of evidence to link me, personally, to human rights’ violations. That is because I never once committed, ordered, ratified, sanctioned or condoned any violation of human rights. Nevertheless, the TRC sought to implicate me regardless, and I was forced to bring a lawsuit to rectify the preposterous findings in the TRC Report.
The TRC was not a definitive moment separating us from our past and allowing us to walk into democracy with a clean slate. It was valuable in exposing the horrors of Apartheid, but failed the far greater issue of black-on-black violence which had claimed some 20 000 lives. Thus we walk, still crippled by the lack of full reconciliation in our nation. There was somehow a lack of honesty behind the TRC process.
Similarly, a second TRC process to deal with the violence of the past eighteen years cannot be a definitive moment, separating us from this societal plague and allowing us to walk forward with a clean slate.
The deeper issue, the missing part to the formula, still needs to be addressed.
I suspect that the rapist and the abuser fail to respect the intrinsic right to human dignity of their victim, because their own dignity has been compromised. It is difficult to respect a universal principle when that principle doesn’t seem to apply to your own life. This doesn’t excuse criminality, but it does explain why our country is locked in a perpetual cycle of violence.
As much as we tout the Constitution and the unassailable human rights of all our people, the fact remains that both poverty and corruption create daily infringements on our rights that tell us in a much louder voice – the voice of experience – that we don’t have an intrinsic, unassailable right to dignity, security, education, housing and healthcare.
If you were to tell someone who has been on the waiting-list for an RDP house for sixteen years that they have a fundamental and constitutionally protected human right to decent housing, would they be more inclined to listen to the words or the reality?
Our people are frustrated. They are not simply wounded by the scars of Apartheid. They are battered by the facts of life in a democratic South Africa; facts like poverty, a failing education system, high levels of crime, high unemployment, pervasive corruption, a struggling healthcare system. Need I continue?
Frustration exploded in widespread service delivery protests, and now it is exploding in strikes and the threat of strikes. But, all along, frustration has been the undercurrent to violence and crime. We must deal with the wounds of the present.
The results of the South African Social Attitudes Survey of the Human Sciences Research Council are revealing when it comes to understanding the frustration that separates our people.
Sixty-four percent of respondents feel that “people of different racial groups do not really trust or like each other”. Fifty-eight percent believe that people of other race groups are trying to get ahead economically at the expense of their own group. More than half feel that other race groups exclude their group from positions of power and responsibility, and almost half feel that their traditions and values are under threat because of the influence of other races.
This should challenge some conventional thinking. While many black South Africans feel deliberately excluded from the economy, so do many white South Africans. While many white South Africans feel their values are under threat, so do many black South Africans.
Somehow this is less about race than it is about opportunity, empowerment, inclusion and equality. For as long as our people are frustrated and see their human rights trampled by poverty and corruption, they will struggle to respect the human rights of their neighbour.
A process like the TRC presupposes a clear distinction between victim and perpetrator. I wonder how a second TRC process, to deal with the wounds of the present, would distinguish between the two.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe MP, Press Officer to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, on 082 729 2510.