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State's schizophrenic approach to justice for apartheid victims requires proper explabation


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State's schizophrenic approach to justice for apartheid victims requires proper explabation

State's schizophrenic approach to justice for apartheid victims requires proper explabation

17th January 2024


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The GOOD party welcomes the announcement by the Department of Justice that four apartheid-era security policemen are to stand trial for the 1985 murder of Jameson Ngoloyi Mngomezulu.

We also welcome the recently announced re-opening of the inquest into the 1985 murders of the Cradock Four – Mathew Goniwe, Sparrow Mkonto, Fort Calata and Sicelo Mhlauli.


These developments are important because historic injustices don’t go away; they spread the contagions of unaccountability and impunity, and reverberate until they are addressed.

Twenty-one years ago, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in its Final Report, referred about 300 cases to the NPA for investigation and prosecution. These were cases in which perpetrators of serious human rights violations either chose not to apply to the commission for amnesty, or were denied amnesty.


Among those who were denied amnesty on the grounds that they had not made a full confession, or that their crimes weren’t committed with political motive, were three of the four now accused of Mngomezulu’s murder, and five policemen – now all dead – who applied for amnesty in respect of the murders of the Cradock Four.

Another person of interest to the Cradock Four families, former President FW De Klerk, who as the then-Minister of Education allegedly attended security council meetings at which the murders were discussed, is also regrettably no longer around to provide his perspective.

While the arrest of Mngomezulu’s alleged killers is a major development, his family could be in for another long wait for justice if the accused follow the pattern of their former colleague Joao Rodrigues. When Rodrigues was charged with the murder of Ahmed Timol, he launched a series of appeals for a permanent stay of execution – successfully evading justice until he passed away of old age.

Mngomezulu’s alleged killers are not young men, either.

The past few years have seen several announcements by the Minister of Justice and the NPA of measures, including added investigative and prosecutorial resources, to underscore the State’s firm resolve to finally tackle the so-called TRC cases.

Considering the stated resolve, pickings have been unacceptably thin. Of the 300 TRC cases, we’ve seen action on around 10 – most of it, re-opened inquests after the alleged perpetrators are dead.

Re-opening apartheid-era inquests is good, because they routinely covered up the true circumstances of activists’ deaths. It’s important for families to know, and official records to record, the truth.

It’s also important for the country to know what went wrong; why the democratic State subverted the principles of accountability and justice in respect of victims of apartheid security forces. 

Failing to properly account for decades long delays after the conclusion of the TRC, and only beginning to act after most perpetrators have died, is a further subversion of accountability and justice.

The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chaired the TRC, described it as wielding a carrot (the promise of amnesty in qualifying cases) and a stick (the legal action that the State would take against those who were not granted amnesty). 

In its Final Report, the TRC stated: “However painful the experience, the wounds of the past must not be allowed to fester. They must be opened. They must be cleansed. And balm must be poured on them so that they can be healed. This is not to be obsessed with the past. It is to take care that the past is properly dealt with for the sake of the future.“

The State owes the people a proper explanation for what happened to the stick, and why.


Issued by Brett Herron, GOOD Secretary-General & Member of Parliament


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