15 July 2015

Intern experience: reflection on working with TRC records

I am a rising sophomore at Bard College, and I will be spending 6 weeks at SAHA completing an internship through the Bard-Wits International Human Rights Exchange (IHRE) Program. I arrived in Johannesburg in July and have spent a few days with each of SAHA’s three key programmes and projects. During my few days working with the Right to Truth (RTT) team, I was informed about the TRC’s investigative work held under Section 29 of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act of 1995. At this time, the TRC held private hearings in which subpoenaed individuals were asked to expose information on human rights violations to the best of their knowledge. These Section 29 records have been made public after a PAIA request from SAHA’s Freedom of Information (FOIP) team – first submitted in 2003.

My duties in this past week have included researching former TRC members and noting their former positions in the TRC as well as what they are currently doing today after the TRC. Work also included updating the list of organisations that contributed to the TRC Archival project. After updating this information, another RTT team member and I worked down the list of updated contacts and organisations and contacted them to ask about their TRC collections. To my surprise, many of the organisations were unsure about their archives or TRC collections and only a few were able to give us any update on their TRC collections. It seems that many organisations have either not kept up to date on their collections or are unsure of the status. After searching for many of the individual past members of the TRC, it is also shocking that for many of them I was unable to find updated information, such as their present-day career or contact information, despite all of the important work that they have done in the past.

While the RTT project is one of many ongoing social justice and human rights projects at SAHA, it is clear to me that this project and team has a strong interest in publicising the information contained in the Section 29 inquiry documentation, to contribute to a more just and accessible post-apartheid society. The hard teamwork and enthusiasm extends not only through the RTT team but throughout all of the ongoing projects teams at SAHA, adhering to the awareness and freedom to information focus the organisation is based on.  I look forward to working with the other sectors of SAHA and seeing how all of the projects unify as well as correlate with contemporary issues in South Africa dealing with freedom and access to information and human rights pursuits.

Miranda West, Bard College (New York)