18 April 2016

#TRC20 report back: launch of Battle Against Forgetting / Breaking the Silence exhibitions

Last Thursday saw the launch of two exhibitions in the Ramparts at Constitution Hill as part of a short collaborative programme to mark 20 years since the first public hearings of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) on 15 April 1996, during which SAHA, in collaboration with the Human Rights Media Centre, the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre, Khulumani Support Group (Western Cape), the Ahmed Timol Family Trust, and Constitution Hill, will be hosting a series of public exhibitions, film screenings, panel discussions and workshops aimed at raising awareness around ongoing justice and accountability issues in relation to the unfinished business of the TRC.

Shirley Gunn, director of the Human Rights Media Centre in Cape Town, spoke about the art & memory materials on display as part of the "Breaking the silence: a luta continua" exhibit that speak to the devastating wounds that survivors of apartheid-era human rights violations continue to live with today. Nala Ramahlokoane, the SAHA Support Services Coordinator, reflects on the launch event:

"I was moved by the stories of the pain and suffering that the victims had gone through, it was actually quite heartbreaking and this, coupled with reparations that were so meagre and were still not even paid out to most of the victims, made me understand the issue of the phrase the unfinished business of the TRC. And, with the current matter of the release of Janusz Walus on parole, the views I have been hearing in the media, that this should be a legal matter and the victims shouldn't get involved, which made sense to me at the time, now seems to be just as insensitive as what Judge van Nieuwenhuizen said during Janusz Walus's parole bid ruling [when she told Chris Hani's widow to "move on"]"

Yasmin Sooka, former TRC Commissioner and Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights, in reflecting on the work of the TRC and some of the complexities and contradictions at the heart of dealing with the past initiatives lamented that the promise of the South African transition largely remains unfulfilled, and called for greater solidarity in pursuit of transformative justice in South African today.

Kimberly Hui, a Canadian lawyer currently interning at SAHA through the Canadian Bar Association Young Lawyers' Program, reflects on the launch event and Yasmin's words:

"Yasmin Sooka's speech regarding the unfinished business of the TRC was a stark eye opener. The thing that stood out to me most was when she stated she was almost embarrassed to look at the panels hung in the exhibition as the past commissioner of the TRC because no tangible reconciliation actually occurred... I had no idea so many were pardoned and the rest have not been adequately dealt with. Yasmin's speech emphasized how essential it is to have events like this, especially with the younger generation present, to remind us of the extent of work that still needs to be done."

Hennie van Vuuren shared details of research being undertaken by OpenSecrets ZA, with support from SAHA, into apartheid-era economic crime and corruption.

 James Ekron, the current Advocacy Officer for the Freedom of Information Programme, admitted to feeling unsettled by what he learned about just how unfinished the work of the TRC remains in South Africa:

"Decades of murder, torture and imprisonment in South Africa yielded one single arrest and detention: Eugene De Kock. Millions of rands, thousands of hours of testimony and all the dedicated legal capacity which our country had to offer and there was one single arrest for all the crimes committed by the Apartheid government. Fairness, justice, legality – these are all non-realities we invoke to pretend society is carried along by these concepts. In reality, the unfinished business of the TRC still exists within our society...  Civil society is in triage but the cancer rages on..."

These exhibitions will be on display until Sunday 8 May. 



Read FHR's summary of the launch event

Learn more about SAHA's Battle against Forgetting: human rights & the unfinished business of the TRC exhibition catalogue and educational materials


Visit the SAHA / SABC Truth Commission Special Report website to explore audiovisual records of the TRC public hearings

Find out more about SAHA's TRC Collections

Find out more about the other "Battle Against Forgetting" #TRC20 events taking place in April & May 2016

Find out more about Constitution Hill