20 years after the TRC: Are we any the better?

thabang_mokgatleAuthor: Thabang Mokgatle
Candidate Attorney, Rushmere Noach Incorporated, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

“We are looking to maintain not retribution but reparation; we are seeking room for humanity rather than revenge”
– Desmond Tutu, First hearing of the TRC in April 1996

15 April 2016 marked the twentieth anniversary since the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) first commenced in South Africa. In reflecting on the occasion, the words of Desmond Tutu above quoted have unveiled two pertinent questions:  Did post-apartheid South Africa, in 1996, require a moment for justice or for reconciliation? Would the pursuit of the former in the first instance, not have led to the achievement of the latter? There is a growing sense that in prioritising the ‘rainbow nation’, the TRC substantially undermined the realisation of justice (institutional justice through the court system). Victims of apartheid-era crimes have supposedly been short-changed, leaving much to be desired since the TRC first convened.

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The right to happiness in Africa

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Leopold Sedar Senghor said: emotion is African.[1] This emotion has been channeled to constitutions. Happiness is a core value in many African constitutions. It was explicitly mentioned in Liberia, Namibia, Ghana, Nigeria, Swaziland, and Egypt.

Article 1 of the Constitution of Liberia, 1986, proclaims that all free governments are instituted by the people’s authority, for their benefit, and they have the right to alter and reform it when their safety and ‘happiness’ require it.[2] The preamble of the Egyptian Constitution, 2014, cites ‘a place of common happiness for its people’.   The Namibian Constitution, 1990, assures the right ‘to the pursuit of happiness’. In this regard, Frederick Fourie defends the preamble of the Namibian Constitution, explaining that it is coloured by the struggle against colonialism and racism; that it is built around the denial of the ‘right of the individual life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ by colonialism, racism and apartheid.[3]

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The tragic dialectic between happiness and apartheid

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Some political speeches announce tragedies. In South Africa, the tragedy was announced during a radio broadcast on 17 March 1961, when the people heard the following statement: “The policy of separate development is designed for happiness, security, and stability (…) for the Bantu as well as the whites”. It was the first phrase proclaimed by the Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, Hendrik Verwoerd, in his Address to the Nation. The policy of separate development would prove to be a scandalous euphemism. Verwoerd continued to promise that “we shall provide all our races with happiness and prosperity”.[1] Verwoerd would become known as “the architect of apartheid”.

The South African Governor-General was Supreme Chief in the Transvaal up until 1956. At that time, Cape Africans were considered too advanced to be treated as an underclass. Elizabeth Landis, an American expert on Southern Africa affairs, explains that the government had to change this consideration, with the explanation that ‘if we want to bring peace and happiness to the Native population (…) then we cannot do otherwise than to apply this principle which has worked so effectively in the other three provinces, to the Native population of the Cape as well (…)”.[2] Happiness therefore becomes a scapegoat.

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Biko and the right to happiness

saul_lealAuthor: Saul Leal
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute for International and Comparative Law in Africa (ICLA)

Stephen Bantu Biko occupies a singular place in South African history, precisely because of the manner in which his legacy affected South African constitutionalism.

Biko fought for equal treatment under the law, and proudly founded the Black Consciousness Movement in order to achieve this goal. Biko engaged in a fearless debate related to the victims of racism and colonialism which encompassed the degradation of self-esteem and the inflicted inferiority complex of black South Africans. Biko’s struggle against white authority in order to promote and defend democracy has left a legacy of ideas which would influence future South African generations, including the sentiment of “one man, one vote”.

In 1970, Steve Biko stated that “in order to achieve real action you must yourself be a living part of Africa and of her thought; you must be an element of that popular energy which is entirely called forth for freeing, the progress and the happiness of Africa”.[1] At the time, Biko was a doctoral student and political activist. He was arrested in August 1977. Biko was kept naked and manacled, and died twenty-five days later from brain damage.

Biko envisioned a more inclusive and deeper interpretation of democracy, as opposed to its purely material application. For him, “material want is bad enough, but coupled with spiritual poverty it kills. And this latter effect is probably the one that creates mountains of obstacles in the normal course of emancipation of the black people”.[2]

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South Africa apartheid lawsuit – The end of the epopee?

Marek Jan WasinskiAuthor: Marek Jan Wasinski
Assistant Professor and Chair of Public International Law and International Relations – Faculty of Law and Administration, University of Lodz, Poland

On 21 August 2013, the 2nd United States (US) Circuit Court of Appeal reached a decision on a decade long putative class action suits brought on behalf of individuals harmed by the South African apartheid regime. The suits were originally initiated by two groups of plaintiffs, the Balintulo (or Khulumani plaintiffs) and the Ntsebeza plaintiffs against corporate defendants (namely: Daimler, Ford, and IBM). Plaintiffs asserted that the South African subsidiary companies of the defendants aided and abetted violations of customary international law committed by the (then) South African government. It was claimed inter alia that subsidiary companies had sold cars and computers to the South African government, thus facilitating race-based depredations and injustices, including rape, torture, and extrajudicial killings. A legal basis for the US court’s jurisdiction was the Alien Tort Statute (ATS), a famous part of the Judiciary Act of 1789, conferring federal jurisdiction over “any civil action by an alien for a tort only, committed in violation of the law of nations or a treaty of the United States”. The ATS remained dormant nearly for two centuries until it spectacularly entered the stage before 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeal in a Filartiga v Pena-Irala wherein Paraguay citizens were allowed to sue a former Paraguayan police officer allegedly involved in an extrajudicial killing of a Paraguayan dissident’s son in Paraguay. The decision in Filartiga led to a dramatic rise in international human rights litigation in US courts, involving not only suits against private individuals but also against corporate entities for aiding and abetting violations of the law of nations. There were instances of such litigations ending with profitable settlements. For example, in Abdullahi v Pfizer Inc., Pfizer has reportedly agreed to pay $75 million as compensation for illegal clinical trials in Nigeria. Similarly in Wiwa v Shell Oil Co., faced with claims of complicity in murder, torture, and other crimes related to oil production in the Niger Delta, the Shell provided $15.5 million as compensation to those affected.

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Realisation of inclusive education for persons with disabilities at rural universities in South Africa

adrian_jjuukoAuthor: Adrian Jjuuko
Executive Director of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF); LLM (Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa) candidate, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa

South Africa’s efforts to implement inclusive education started before the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – to which South Africa is a state party- came into force. This was owing to its legacy of apartheid, a policy of exclusion. It created different universities for both the white and black communities. White universities were comprehensive universities that prepared students for professional careers, while black or rural universities were meant to produce semi-skilled menial workers.

With the fall of apartheid, the new regime adopted a policy of inclusive education, including higher education. Higher education was recognised as a right in terms of Article 26 of the 1996 Constitution. A single system of higher education was created and White Paper 6 of 2001 was adopted as the benchmark of inclusive education at all levels. It goes beyond disabilities, race, gender and other grounds of discrimination. It is an obligation for every educational institution to implement inclusive education, and physical accessibility for persons with disabilities (PWDs) is mandatory.

However, there is a need to give special focus to rural universities on account of their history if South Africa is to fulfil its obligations under Article 24 of the CRPD. This article seeks to highlight the implementation of inclusive education for PWDs at one of the rural universities – the University of Venda.

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Xenophobia in South Africa: The time for introspection has come

josua_lootsAuthor: Josua Loots
Project Manager, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria

Xenophobia, just like so many other unsettling issues in South Africa, is gradually becoming part of the way in which we are perceived as a society. The newest upsurge in xenophobic violence clearly indicates that we have not made significant progress since the problem surfaced in 2008. More unsettling however, is the unwillingness of South Africans from all levels of society to acknowledge and address the problem – media houses neglect to conduct in-depth investigations, politicians fail to express their concern over the issue, the South African Police Service controversially fuels public perception through its involvement in incidents regarding foreign nationals, and civilians exercise mob executions with self-righteousness and pride.

The South African Constitution offers protection to citizens and non-citizens, and is one of few constitutions in the world that indisputably does so. The preamble of the Constitution reiterates South Africa’s commitment to uphold the rule of law, and this commitment greatly depends on consistent application of the law in South Africa. It is imperative that South Africans understand that our own claims on the protection of and rights entrenched in the Constitution depend on respecting the rights of others. Arbitrary mob killings of foreign nationals during the past five years suggest that South Africans struggle to come to terms that all people are equal before the law. Allegations of foreign nationals being involved in criminal activities often lead to mob justice, which is a dangerous step towards corroding the rule of law, and eventually the Constitution upon which our society so greatly depends.

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