There’s never been truth and reconciliation

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By: Carl Niehaus

Thapelo Silas Manyakalle I write to you as a comrade of a younger generation, who may not know all the information I am going to refer to.

During the last phase of the Constitutional Negotiations the security forces of the old apartheid regime [the SAPS & SADF] (especially the SADF under General Jannie Geldenhuys, with some backing of General Constand Viljoen) were threatening the possibility of a military coup if the issue of amnesty, for the many crimes and human rights abuses that they have committed were not sorted out.

We were on the verge of a major breakthrough to have our first democratic elections of universal franchise, and any attempt of a coup had the potential to scupper it. Eventually under the pressure of such a threatened coup attempt we agreed in the negotiations to the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) process. This was a very imperfect, and in my view problematic agreement, reached under pressure (it was actually blackmail!).

However, I understand that the intention of this agreement from our (the ANC’s side) was to ensure that the elections of the 27th of April 1994 could go ahead. As a very junior member of the ANC negotiating team I registered my unhappiness about a process that could grant amnesty to murderers, and the worst criminals and human rights abusers. What I feared actually happened, these criminals abused the TRC to get amnesty.

They went to the TRC and created a farce of false contrition and apologies, crying crocodile tears and getting amnesty – actually getting away with murder! THERE WAS NO TRUTH AND NO RECONCILIATION. I want you to understand the sacrifice that many comrades, including myself, (who were severely tortured, and families who have lost loved ones to these murderers) made to accede to the TRC.

We were under severe pressure prepared to let those who have tortured us, and killed our loved ones, to get amnesty and go scott-free, in the hope that it would help to secure our democracy, and eventually contribute to unity and nation building. But it was all a fore-lone, and false dream, these murderers were never in any way sorry about what they have done. They went to the TRC and made insincere (fake) apologies just to get amnesty and, despite there terrible crimes, walk free. They abused our good intentions, and the sacrifices we were prepared to make in order to secure our democracy.

When I realized that my worst fears had become true, and that the TRC had indeed become an awful farce, I personally refused to participate in the such a farcical travesty. The security police officers who tortured me to the point where I lost most of my hearing applied for amnesty to the TRC, and I was approached by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to come to the TRC and listen to what they had to say, and then say that I accept their apology, and that I forgive them. I was not prepared to do that! I was not prepared to part of such a farce. So I opted stay away. Whatever they wanted to say, they could go and say, and Archbishop Tutu and the other commissioners could grant them amnesty if they wanted to do so, which I believe they did, but I made it very clear that it had to happen WITHOUT my consent. I do not believe that they were sincere with their so-called ‘apologies’, and up to this very day I am not prepared to forgive them.

Like the others that tortured and killed so many of our comrades they are criminals who should have been tried and imprisoned. Many of them deserve to be in prison for life. I am still firmly of the belief that they should be arrested, tried and imprisoned for what they have done.

The TRC was extracted from the ANC under duress during the negotiations. In my view it totally lacked legitimacy.

I hope that the current Inquest into the death of comrade #NeilAggett will reveal who killed him, and I remain firmly of the view that once those killers are exposed they should be arrested, tried for murder with extenuating circumstances, and imprisoned. No mercy should be shown. They have shown no mercy. It is evident from the lies that the former security police officers continue to tell now at the #NielAggettInquest, that they continue to be un-rehabilitated murderers who deserve no mercy at all.

A final – but critically important point – we must NEVER forget that the overwhelming majority of those who were detained, tortured and killed were black comrades (specifically African). While the inquests into the death of comrades Ahmed Timol and Neil Aggett are critically important, and should take place. Similar inquests into the killings of our black (African) comrades in detention and elsewhere are critically important, in fact I want to insist that it is a MUST. These comrades deserves the justice of the TRUTH about what happened to them just as much, and even more, in as much as they suffered by far the most under apartheid. I ask myself are these cases not getting the status and attention of an Inquest because the black (especially African) families do not have the financial resources to pay for lawyers and everything else that is associated with such Inquests? Surely if this is the case, and I am sure it is, it reflects a deep fault-line in our democracy, in as much as the harsh fact that universal franchise has not brought economic empowerment and justice for the black (especially African majority) who suffered the most under apartheid, and by far made the biggest sacrifices during the apartheid struggle. Understanding this makes the sacrifices of those who so desperately, under severe pressure, reluctantly acceded to the TRC even more tragic, and the amnesties that were granted even more farcical and callous!”