27 September 2018

Using the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000(PAIA) to access Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) records.

Using the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000(PAIA) to access Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) records

On 28 September 2018 the world celebrates the International Day for the Universal Access to Information. This day commemorates access to information by organising conferences and public activities to discuss and raise awareness about freedom of information, promotion of open access and adopting right to information laws in counties. In South Africa the right to access to information is recognised and protected under the section 32 of the Constitution, and in the Promotion of Access to Information Act of 2000 (PAIA) which was enacted to give effect to this right.  The right to access of information is not only relevant for contemporary issues, but is vital for the healing of past wounds.

The TRC was established to try and heal past injustices through truth telling, accountability and reconciliation. Whether the TRC was the best route for South Africa, is a debate that cannot be held in vacuum without considering the role of both pre and post democracy governments. Prior to the TRC, most evidence of gross human rights violations was either destroyed or unlawfully withheld from the commission by those in power. (For a more detailed read on how the National Defence Force hid key apartheid era military intelligence information files from the TRC read; Kate Allan.2009. Paper Wars. Johannesburg. Wits university press.)

Yet despite the limited knowledge, the TRC had significant information before it that was sufficient to ensure some justice. As such, the TRC made examinations and furnished a report that highlighted its final findings and recommendations. Of greater concern is that sadly, most recommendations put forward by the TRC have not been considered, and some even been wilfully disregarded.

The government has pardoned apartheid era perpetrators without proper consultation with the victims or their families. According to the SAHA publication, ‘ The Battle Against Forgetting: Human Rights and the Unfinished Business of the TRC’ the Presidential pardoning of perpetrators who were denied amnesty by the TRC made a mockery of the TRC’s promise of amnesty only for full and frank disclosure from amnesty application.  This is because the pardoning occurred without proper consultation with the families of the victims, defeating the purpose of amnesty for truth. The question that now lingers is, how can victims find healing when so many questions still go unanswered and their oppressors are walking freely with no accountability.

Lack of accountability and impunity was the order of the apartheid system which led to a number of deaths. Many political detainees died suspiciously while in the hands of apartheid security branch police. Even though there were testimonials given to the TRC and investigations have identified the purpertrators, who failed or were denied amnesty,  the families of the victims have still not found answers as to what happed to their loved ones. At FOIP we are on a mission to use existing access to information laws in a bid to hopefully uncover some of what happened to the victims of gross human rights violations and hopefully give families closure and healing.

In addition to the prosecution of those guilty, the TRC made recommendations that victims of human rights violation had to be compensated through payment of reparations. Unsurprisingly, the poor and marginalised who were identified as rightful candidates to receive the reparations, never did and despite their sacrifices, still live in revolting conditions. They have no access to housing and proper sanitation. Additionally, apart from the few identifies, many victims and survivors of gross human rights violations were not included in the TRC process, and many do not appear on the official victims list who qualified for reparations. Sadly these individuals will never be able to access reparation should they ever be made avaialble.

It has been over twenty years since South Africa became a democracy, yet even under the new constitutional dispensation our government still gravitates towards apartheid era secrecy tendencies. There are more unanswered questions than answers. The business of the TRC is yet to be completed. South Africa is at a pivotal point in history where there is a need to replace trust in public institutions and show that there are consequences for actions. We owe it to our children to give them a better future of accountability and transparency.