Unfinished business on the agenda

19 April 2005

Consistent dialogue between victims and perpetrators is the only way to heal the pain caused by past injustices and atrocities.

This is the view expressed by Dr Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela at the first in a series of public dialogues, designed to "keep alive issues and hopes already raised by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission" and to find ways of moving the reconciliation agenda forward.

A multi-disciplinary panel including writer and poet Antjie Krog, cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro, and former special forces conscript in the SA Defence Force, now conscientious objector, Marius van Niekerk, addressed three topics: amnesty and the question of presidential pardon; the story of the "disappeared" in South Africa, and the life of former conscripts of the SADF and former combatants in the liberation forces.

Thembi Nkadimeng, sister of "disappeared" teenager Nokuthula Simelane, spoke of the pain experienced by herself and her family as a result of the "never-ending story" of being unable to find the truth and details of her sister's death.

"The TRC taught me there is nothing called the absolute truth," she said as part of her presentation. Simelane was an activist whose disappearance in 1983 later became the subject of two conflicting amnesty hearings.

Filmmaker Mark Kaplan, who is working on a series of documentaries about the "disappeared" of South Africa (to be broadcast to commemorate 10 years since the start of the TRC), said the camera provided a way of remembering people and of "preventing things from disappearing".

"It is right that the TRC no longer exists, but its work, especially the work of reconciliation, must go on," said Dr Alex Boraine, director of the Institute for Transformational Justice. Boraine warned that reconciliation was "not a cheap idea", but was a process that needed to build trust and had to be continued on a basis of total commitment and economic redress.

The unresolved issues raised by the TRC amounted to the "unfinished business of the country", and needed to be dealt with for the direction of the country in the future, said Yasmin Sooka. She said narrow interpretations of the TRC's role had emphasised issues such as atrocities and human rights abuses, but had failed to address the economic structure underpinning the TRC itself, as well as its involvement in the systematic implications of apartheid that remained unexplored.

South Africa - The Unfinished Story series of public dialogues is sponsored by the Unilever Ethics Centre and Facing History and Ourselves (an American NGO involved with Holocaust education). The event was hosted by UCT's Faculty of Humanities, in collaboration with the University of KwaZulu-Natal's Unilever Ethics Centre, and opened on April 6.

It was organised by Gobodo-Madikizela, associate professor of Psychology, in collaboration with Chris van der Merwe, associate Professor of Afrikaans & Nederlands at UCT's School of Languages.

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