This month, the country marks the 10th anniversary since the first sitting of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), designed to allow victims to deal with the horrors of apartheid, which ended in 1994.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who led the commission, acknowledges the forum’s success in setting an international benchmark for dealing with post-conflict situations.
But, he adds, it failed to uncover the truth in many cases or meet the needs of victims.
“We probably shouldn’t have operated as we did. Amnesty was granted with immediate effect,” he said at a gathering in Cape Town, South Africa, to mark the anniversary.
Tutu was also unhappy with the “ungenerous reparations” paid to apartheid victims who appeared before the commission.
“We should have had a budget (for victims) and estimated what they should get, with immediate effect.”
Instead, the ANC government decided in 2003 to grant a once-off reparations payment of 30,000 rand ($3,670 at the time) to apartheid victims who gave testimony to the commission.
Many among the more than 21,000 victims thought the amount wasn’t even enough to meet their medical expenses.
Yasmin Sooka, a former TRC commissioner, said it was time that FW De Klerk, the former president, comes forward and admit to the crimes committed by the apartheid state.
She said it was mostly foot soldiers who had applied for amnesty and not the politicians and security force commanders who issued the orders.
Sooka said that “those who created this milieu … by and large the politicians in a sense got away with it”.
Tutu and Sooka appealed to white businesses to contribute financially to apartheid reparations as they had “profiteered while propping up the apartheid state”.
Tutu has expressed doubts over the prospects of success in prosecutions of apartheid-era perpetrators of human rights who were not granted amnesty.
In January, the country’s National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) released a policy to guide in on the prosecution of such perpetrators.
Tutu says his concern “is if we’ll be able to uncover the evidence (of atrocities).”
“I have my doubts. The apartheid government was adept at hiding and destroying evidence. Cases go on for a long time and then people are acquitted,” he added.
“I fear it is traumatising the victims.”
The NPA has a list of about 300 names of those who failed to apply for amnesty or whose applications for amnesty were rejected.
Adding to the criticism of post-apartheid South Africa and the TRC is Nkosinathi Biko, whose father, Steve Biko, was murdered by apartheid security forces.
“The TRC became an amnesty process, not reconciliation in the case of Steve Biko. In our case it (the TRC) was a total waste of time” Nkosinathi Biko
“As individuals they (whites) have made no contribution to the process of reconciliation,” he said.
Biko cited a failed attempt from late 2000 to get as many whites as possible to sign up to a statement symbolically acknowledging that, whether as active agents of apartheid or not, they had collective responsibility for the atrocities of the system.
“That campaign fell flat. That should not have been the case,” Biko said.
This was in contrast to the willingness of “the victims of apartheid to embrace peaceful change in South Africa”, he added.
The Biko family refused to attend the TRC, as many others did, to seek redress for the killing of Steve Biko, the founder of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa and whose life inspired the film, Cry Freedom.
They had discovered that the five policemen who were implicated in Biko’s death were to apply for amnesty and not provide more details of how the activist died.
“You had a set of people applying for amnesty for the death of Steve Biko who were denying that they were responsible for his death,” said Nkosinathi Biko.
An apartheid government inquest absolved the five policemen of responsibility.
“The TRC became an amnesty process, not reconciliation in the case of Steve Biko. In our case it (the TRC) was a total waste of time.”
The TRC denied the five policemen amnesty.
Nkosinathi Biko was only seven years old when his father, then 30, suffered fatal brain damage during a police interrogation in 1977. The slain Biko’s movement helped organise protests that led to the Soweto riots in 1976.
South Africa’ ANC-led government came into power in 1994, after the country’s first democratic elections were held.