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Source: Department of Education
Title: Asmal: Debate during tabling of TRC Report
ADDRESS BY THE MINISTER OF EDUCATION, PROFESSOR KADER ASMAL, MP, IN
THE DEBATE ON THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION REPORT, National
Assembly, Cape Town, 15 April 2003
The Speaker, Mr President and
Honourable members of our National Parliament
We have arrived at a truly historic moment, long delayed, some
might say, but certainly a moment worthy of celebration. The
importance of this moment is that it constitutes the end of the
beginning of a process that Parliament initiated seven years ago.
It signifies the end of a particularly intense, searching and
sometimes painful process in our country's history. But as much as
it is the end of a process it also points to the dawning of a new
chapter for our democracy and the national development and
reconstruction needed to fully achieve the ideals we set for
In pursuit of our goals, it is important to recall that the TRC was
intended to be one initiative among many designed to bring healing
to our nation in the wake of the evil years of apartheid. As we
today face the closing phases of the work of the TRC, we need to
recall the overall mandate that governed its work. It is to
reconcile. It is to heal. It is to repair. The time has come to
build a national consensus on how to do so.
Given its importance, we in this Parliament, need to treat this
moment with the dignity it deserves. Vaclav Havel, former President
of the Czech Republic, speaks of the need for what he calls
'non-political politics' in dealing with matters of national
interest - this involves every member of the community seeking to
complement one another in pursuit of a goal that is greater than
anyone of us.
Therefore, we need to rise above our political differences in
pursuit of national inclusivity, redress and restoration that will
finally take us across the historic bridge between an unjust and
violent past and a future founded on the recognition of human
rights and peace and enables us to take forward the challenge of
building a united and thriving nation.
We have made significant progress since setting out on our march.
However at the same time we still have some distance to travel
before we reach our destination of a better life for all.
We have often said that South Africa can be proud of the way in
which it has negotiated its transition from a past of oppression
and racial injustice to a present of democratic freedoms and the
hope of development and progress for all of its citizens.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has played an important
role in realising the moral significance of democracy in South
Africa. In doing so, it engaged in the work of memory, dedicated to
the struggle, in Milan Kundera's familiar phrase, of 'memory
against forgetting'. This work of memory was important. Although we
should be critical of attempts to turn memory into myth making,
especially if such myths are only ways of avoiding historical
accountability, the TRC was responsible for important memory work.
To create a future, we must therefore remember the past.
In doing so it recognised that a wishful and forgetful approach
would simply serve to entrench past inequities, as they would not
simply disappear on their own accord. They must actively be
dismantled. In doing so it acknowledged that to avert our eyes from
the past is to tolerate it as a continuing phantom chauffer in a
seemingly new journey. The TRC enabled us to come to a reckoning of
our past, which is crucial in ensuring that the corrective action
processes, which flow from its work, do not lose their historical
moorings and condemn us to moral and political drift.
Indeed, the TRC recognised that for genuine and meaningful
reconciliation to take place, we must ensure moral and political
restitution in the sense of wiedergutmachung, which means to 'make
good again'. We cannot really enter upon the process of making good
the history of South Africa unless we acknowledge precisely what
bad there is to undo. We cannot enter upon the rich and nuanced
process of reconciliation armed only with mumbled banalities about
the past being an 'innocent mistake'.
But what kind of memory of the past do we need to build a new South
Africa? We need a memory based not on the bitter resentment of the
past but on the possibilities of reconciliation for the future. In
doing so we have followed the advice of the Chilean commissioner
Jose Zalaquett, who insisted that a "society cannot reconcile
itself on the grounds of a divided memory. Since memory is
identity, this would result in a divided identity."
But memory needs a place, a habitation, and a name. While it is a
truism that those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it,
the reverse comfort does not necessarily hold. A society may
remember its past and nevertheless repeat it; or even surpass it in
cruelty. Afrikaner suffering at the hands of British imperialism
early this century actually fuelled the racial oppression of
apartheid, rather than serving as an admonition against it.
Part of the healing process is to identify the common bonds that
hold us together as a nation. The Constitution provides us with the
basis for developing a South African identity.
Since the devil can quote history to his or her own purpose, a
simple factual record of the apartheid past, devoid of an ethical
basis, would be of little value. What matters is not merely the
fact that we remember history but the way in which we remember it.
In this context, one where we take full measure of the past, our
country can become a safer place for idealism, the sort of place
that Seamus Heaney had in mind when he wrote of those rare times
and places 'when hope and history rhyme'.
And it is in between our divided past and our hopes for the future
that we can only build such bridges in the present.
As we receive the Final Report of the TRC, we find another occasion
to recommit ourselves to its central injunction, never again.
However we also need to acknowledge the ongoing efforts of bridge
building that will provide the moral and material basis for
ensuring that such a past is never again repeated.
In doing so, we should however focus on 'building' and not
'restoration', of imagining afresh, of starting anew. We are not
restoring what was lost, as if we are returning to some golden age
prior to apartheid of tolerance, understanding and
As Antjie Krog has noted, is reconciliation or restoration the
right word in a country where there is nothing to go back to, no
previous state or relationships one would wish to restore? Or is
it, as she intimates, about the recovery of a lost humanity
squandered in the violent pursuit of racial purity and ethnic
As the TRC process revealed, we have been a wounded, divided, and
deeply scarred society. It would therefore be extremely foolish to
remain complacent about the deep suspicions that continue to exist
in the country. It would be foolish to expect that the severe
corrosion of our human dignity would heal quickly and without
purposeful effort, active reconciliation and focused attention to
developing the values necessary to support our democracy.
In this work of bridge building we affirm that reparations must
take the form not only of monetary compensation but also of other
forms of redress. We were all struck by how often victims told the
TRC that they wanted their loved ones to be commemorated by a
marker, a plaque, a memorial. The work of memorialisation, from
shared monuments such as Freedom Park to individual grave markers,
is a significant aspect of reparations. Issuing of death
certificates, the expedition of reburials, and the facilitation of
outstanding legal matters also responds to the needs of
Financial reparation is a part of redress. Funds have been set
aside for reparations and the President has referred to the
Government's obligation under section 27(1) of the TRC Act. The
TRC, however, mandated individual reparations for victims of
'gross' violations. But we must always remember that the real and
offensive gross violations affected over 35 million people through
the policy of apartheid. Their suffering must also be addressed. It
would be extremely insensitive and absurd to suggest that the
victims of apartheid can be limited to only about 22 000
Therefore, the class action suits currently being considered in the
United States against multinational corporations that did business
with the apartheid government are completely inappropriate as the
assumption continues to 'individualise' claims when the real crime
against humanity was against an entire people. South Africa must
settle this issue for themselves and does not need the help of
ambulance chasers and contingency fee operators, whether in
Switzerland, the Netherlands or the United States of America. As
South Africans we have effectively dealt with our own historical
challenges and we will continue to do so. It is part of our
In this spirit, Madam Speaker, Parliament was directed by the
Interim Constitution, in terms of the TRC Act, to adopt a law
providing for amnesty and which is introduced by the words 'in
order to advance reconciliation and reconstruction'. This unique
association between reconciliation, reconstruction, amnesty and
reparation is a truly South African solution, which has drawn the
praise of the rest of the world. Reconciliation is intrinsically
linked to, and a part of, the reconstruction of all of our country.
Otherwise, as we have been warned, there will never be peace in our
This is because we recognise that the criminal act of apartheid was
in and of itself the most fundamental of violations of human
rights, which permeated all levels and institutions within our
divided society. We cannot therefore simply limit our response to
that of individual reparations. Instead we would do better to
continue on our path to achieve sustainable collective redress
through socio-economic programmes that invest in people, eradicate
poverty, create employment opportunities, and redress the legacy of
exclusion. This is the task of reconciliation.
My point is a simple one: Individual healing ultimately requires a
restored and healthy society within which the aggrieved person can,
to the extent that it is possible, get on with his or her life.
This requires the creation of a society within which victims and
survivors of past atrocities have reason to hope. And beyond hope
to expect to be able to find employment, to obtain adequate
schooling for their children and have a decent roof under which
family cohesion and respect can be generated. The creation of a
balanced, stable and just society within which there are adequate
social, educational and health services for all must surely be the
moral foundation of any reparations policy.
To suggest that a monetary payment is all that a victim or survivor
of a gross violation of human rights requires is insensitive. It
smacks of ignorance and indifference. We must provide a policy that
is more responsible and more sensitive to the needs of the people
than that. It is a policy that involves the need to heal the often
haunting memories of those that have suffered. It involves access
to social and health services. It involves time and above all space
within which to remember and pay respect to those who have fallen
in pursuit of our democracy. It involves the public spaces where
we, as a nation, can commit ourselves to remember as a basis for
ensuring that the atrocities of the past do not reoccur in the
future. It involves some form of recognition and acknowledgement of
the suffering of fellow citizens. Suffice to say, we cannot merely
make a monetary payment, feel that we have done our duty and then
walk away from those in need. That is too easy.
In so doing, we remember the words of the former Deputy President
of the Constitutional Court, the late Justice Ismail Mahomed, when
in 1996, he stressed that; "The resources of the State have to be
deployed imaginatively, wisely, efficiently and equitably, to
facilitate the reconstruction process in a manner which best brings
relief and hope to the widest sections of the community, developing
for the benefit of the entire nation the latent human potential and
resources of person who has directly or indirectly been burdened
with the heritage of the shame and the pain of our racist
Briefly stated, reparations for individuals needs to be communally
balanced against other state obligations for reconstruction.
Therefore for us true reconciliation needs to acknowledge the
necessity for redress, best described in Afrikaans as regstellende
aksie, which recognises the need for corrective action by the State
and which is guaranteed by the Constitution. It is only through
collective reparations that we can address the overall injustice of
the apartheid system and the resulting imbalances in society.
And in just under ten years, we can report with pride that while we
still have a long way to go, so much has already been achieved. In
education, housing, land restitution, social development, health,
in the transformation of the public service, in the renewal of
higher education, we have targeted for a South African renewal in a
manner without parallel elsewhere.
In brief, the ultimate goal of the TRC, reflecting our
Constitutional imperative, was to create a society within which
people (all people) experience human dignity, with the knowledge
that the suffering of the past will not be repeated in the future.
It is the task of a wider reparations policy to ensure and
guarantee this. For it to happen, there is a need for a broad-based
national consensus on how to do so. It is a consensus that must
reach beyond the Government to business, trade unions, civil
society, faith communities and private individuals. It constitutes
a call for a new social contract.
Let us not forget, honourable members, that the path we chose in
1994, that of constitutional and peaceful regime change, achieved
with little civil strife and disruption to family and community
life, paved the way for reconciliation, without the compelling need
to exact vengeance and retribution. This has placed a moral
obligation on us to, in the words of the Constitution, 'to heal the
divisions on the past and establish a society based on democratic
values, social justice and fundamental human rights'. This we can
only achieve, if we continue to commit ourselves, what ever our
differences, to the total reconstruction and national development
of our country. In doing so let us heed the prophetic call of a
great leader, Chief Albert Luthuli, who almost sixty years ago,
expressed the hope that 'here in South Africa, with all our
diversities of colour and race, we will show the world a new
pattern for democracy and set a new example for the
Enquiries: Molatwane Likhethe, Minister's Mdeia Liaison, Department
of Education, 082 573 0397
Issued by the Department of Education, 15 April 2003