University of Witwatersrand SAR
THE SOUTH AFRICAN TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION SUBMISSION
BY SOCIAL WORK EDUCATORS
The impetus for writing this document arose out of the Greater
Johannesburg Welfare and Social Service and Development Forum’s
submission to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, of
which faculty of the School of Social Work at the University
of the Witwatersrand (Wits) was a part.
The intention of this document is to outline the context of
the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the history of
the school of social work in the educational policy context
of Wits and South Africa. Some of the ways in which educators
at the school of social work contributed to academic freedom
are highlighted. In addition, shortcomings, gaps and failings
in relation to building justice, peace and an equitable tertiary
educational environment at Wits University are acknowledged.
THE TRUTH AND
The Truth and
Reconciliation Commission arose out of the final clause of
the Interim Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (Act
No. 200 of 1993) in which it:
• provides an historic bridge between the past of a
deeply divided society characterized by strife, conflict,
untold suffering and injustice, and a future founded on the
recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence
and development of opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective
of color, race, class belief or sex;
• is deemed necessary to establish the truth in relation
to past events as well as the motives for and circumstances
in which gross violations of human rights occurred and to
make the findings known in order to prevent a repetition of
such acts in future;
• states that the pursuit of national unity, the well-being
of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation
between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction
• states that there is a need for understanding but
not vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation
and a need for ubuntu (complex African conception of personhood)
but not for victimization;
• states that in order to advance such reconciliation
and reconstruction amnesty would be granted in respect of
acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives
committed in the course of the conflicts of the past; and,
• provides that Parliament shall, under the Constitution,
adopt a law which determined a firm cut-off date, which shall
be a date after October 8, 1990 and before the date envisaged
in the Constitution, and provide for the mechanisms, criteria
and procedures, including tribunals, if any, through which
such amnesty would be dealt with.
There was a commitment
to break with the past, to heal the wounds of the past, to
forgive but not to forget and to build a future based on respect
for human rights.
In passing the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation
Act No. 34 of 1995, Parliament created the legal context for
the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The formation of this commission was based on the assumption
that the truth concerning human rights violations cannot be
suppressed or forgotten. The establishment and undertakings
of the TRC have been seen as a necessary exercise to enable
South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally
accepted basis and to promote the process of reconciliation
The objectives of the TRC are based on the will to promote
national unity and reconciliation in the pursuit of understanding,
which hopefully transcends previous conflicts and divisions.
The objectives include:
• Establishing as complete a picture as possible of
the causes, nature and extent of the gross violations of human
rights (including the antecedents, circumstances, factors
and context of such violation, as well as the perspectives
of the victims and the motives and perspectives of the persons
responsible for committing such violations) by conducting
investigations and holding hearings;
• Facilitating the granting of amnesty to persons who
make full disclosure of all the relevant facts relating to
acts associated with a political objective and which comply
with the requirements of the Act (No. 34 of 1995);
• Establishing and making known the fate or whereabouts
of victims and restoring the human and civil dignity of such
victims by granting them an opportunity to relate their own
accounts of the violations of which they are the victims and
recommending reparation measures in respect of them; and,
• Compiling a report providing the most comprehensive
account possible of the activities and findings of the TRC
and containing recommendations of measures to prevent the
future violations of human rights.
The TRC has had three committees to carry out its mandated
functions: one for human rights violations, one for amnesty
and one for reparation and rehabilitation.
1. The Human Rights
This committee has offered victims the opportunity to tell
their stories of gross human rights violations suffered between
March 1, 1960 and December 5, 1993. These violations are defined
in the act as “torture, murder, abduction, severe ill-treatment”
perpetrated by “any person acting with a political motive”.
This committee has been responsible for determining whether,
in terms of the Act (No. 34 of 1995), the witnesses were indeed
victims. If the decision of the committee was that they were
victims, the committee referred the names to the Reparations
and Rehabilitation Committee for it to consider what recommendations
could be made for a policy on reparations or assistance to
The committee has investigated gross human rights violations.
According to Hamber, Mofokeng & Simpson (1998), to date,
over 20,000 survivors have come forward to make statements.
The committee has recorded these violations and made them
known. The committee has tried to find out who was responsible
for these gross human rights violations and tried to find
out how and why they happened. The committee has held public
This committee also held “event” hearings and
“special hearings”. Event hearings have dealt
with particular incidences that took place, for example, the
June 16, 1976 student uprising. Special hearings focused on
themes and sectors, for example, church, business and medical
fraternity. The submission of the Greater Johannesburg Welfare
and Social Service and Development Forum fell into this category.
Due to time constraints of the TRC, this submission was officially
handed over in February of 1998 and was not disclosed at a
public hearing. However, it will be included in the final
submission. These contextual submissions were particularly
useful in establishing a bigger picture of the operations
of the apartheid system (Hamber, Mofokeng & Simpson, 1998).
2. Amnesty Committee
This committee was set up in the interests of reconciliation
to hear applications for amnesty from perpetrators of violations
of human rights in the course of past political conflicts.
If the committee found that the act for which amnesty is being
sought qualified as an “act associated with a political
objective” - and that the applicants have been truthful
and made a full disclosure of their activities - then the
committee would grant amnesty for that specific act. This
means that the perpetrator would be granted immunity from
future criminal prosecution or civil liability and, if still
in prison, would be released. This act specifically insists
that the TRC gave priority to applications from people who
were in prison. The granting of amnesty has left many people
severely frustrated and confused about the truth and reconciliation
and Rehabilitation Committee
This committee has dealt with cases of victims referred by
the other two committees. The committee has considered the
claims of victims. Policy recommendations to Parliament have
been made for appropriate reparation to victims. The committee
has also recommended interim action in cases of urgent need,
and counseling for victims has been provided. The committee
has preferred to use the term reparation rather than compensation
as it has not been possible to provide proper financial or
other compensation to victims for the losses and harm they
The TRC has also established an Investigative Unit to assist
with its investigations. In addition, the TRC has extensive
rights regarding entry and search and seizure, and can also
This committee proposed a reparation and rehabilitation policy
that still needs to be ratified by the President and Parliament
(Preparation & Rehabilitation Policy, 1998). The recommended
policy has five parts:
1. Interim Reparation. This consists of a payment to those
who suffered hardship as a result of a gross human rights
violation. Those victims in urgent need of services will be
2. Individual Reparation Grant (IRG). This is a special individual
grant scheme that proposes that each victim of gross human
rights violations will receive a financial grant which will
be paid out over a period of six years.
3. Symbolic Reparation, Legal and Administrative Measures.
Individual benefits include issuing of death certificates,
exhumation, reburials and ceremonies, headstones and tombstones,
declarations of death, clearing of criminal records and resolving
outstanding legal matters related to the violations. Community
benefits include renaming of streets and facilities, memorials
and monuments, and culturally appropriate ceremonies. National
benefits include renaming of public facilities, monuments
and memorials; and a day of remembrance and reconciliation.
4. Community Rehabilitation. These proposals focus on setting
up community-based services which promote healing and recovery
of people affected by human rights violations.
5. Institutional reform. One of the tasks of the TRC is to
make proposals on institutional, legislative and administrative
measures to prevent the abuse of human rights from happening
in the future.
CONTEXT OF THE SCHOOL OF SOCIAL WORK AT WITS
Wits University was considered an “open” university
from its inception in 1919. The school admitted “non-white
students as well as white students and aim[ed] in all academic
matters, at treating non-white students on a footing of equality
with white students, and without segregation” (Shear,
1996:1). However, both Shear (1996) and Murray (1997) clearly
document the ways in which Wits University reflected the discriminatory
nature of the South African society prior to the apartheid
era. “Non-white” students, in very limited numbers,
were admitted to the school of social work at Wits University
In 1956 the Nationalist Government made it known that the
“open” universities would no longer be allowed
to admit black students (this document uses the mass democratic
movement definition of black which includes all those South
Africans who were racially oppressed under apartheid’s
iniquitous policies: Indians, Coloreds and Africans). In 1959
the Nationalist Government passed legislation, contained in
the Extension of University Education Act 45, through Parliament
that imposed apartheid on the university education system.
In April of 1959, members of Council, Senate, staff, Convocation
and the student body gathered for the first General Assembly
to express strong objections to the Act and made a solemn
affirmation that was recalled and reaffirmed every year during
the apartheid era (Shear, 1996: 30). The affirmation is as
We affirm in the
name of the University of the Witwatersrand that it is our
duty to uphold the principle that a university is a place
where men and women, without regard to race and color, are
welcome to join in the acquisition and advancement of knowledge;
and to continue faithfully to defend this ideal against all
who have sought by legislative enactment to curtail the autonomy
of the university. Now therefore we dedicate ourselves to
the maintenance of this ideal and to the restoration of the
autonomy of our University.
In addition, all
letterheads and calling cards included the following inscription:
of the Witwatersrand rejects racism and racial segregation.
It is committed to non-discrimination particularly in the
constitution of its student body, in the selection and promotion
of its staff and in its administration.
making this statement and commitment in various ways every
year, social work education was channeled into racially separate
academic institutions, of which the School of Social Work
at Wits was a part. The Wits school did not admit black students
until 1977, when Indian and Colored students were admitted
to study for the undergraduate social work degree by ministerial
During the mid-1970s, the Head of the School of Social Work,
Prof. C. Muller, persuaded the Nationalist government to allow
black students to register for a postgraduate diploma in Advanced
Social Work Practice (Hare & Hoffmann, 1987). Black students
were admitted to this postgraduate diploma course in 1977.
The postgraduate diploma opened opportunities for qualified
black social workers to upgrade their qualifications and bridge
the gap between the inferior education of the “bush”
universities and colleges and education of international standing.
This diploma eventually developed into an honors degree. A
number of black students gained permission from the Senate
to convert their diplomas and proceeded to study for a master’s
degree. One of these students obtained her master’s
degree and became a member of faculty of the School of Social
ACADEMIC FREEDOM BY SOCIAL WORK EDUCATORS AT THE WITS SCHOOL
OF SOCIAL WORK
From 1977 onwards
the faculty of the School of Social Work made a concerted
effort to make inroads into the draconian racist education
policies and procedures of the apartheid government.
In 1977, the Centre Social Development was established by
Prof. C. Muller, who was then the head of the School of Social
Work. The multi-racial staff and students of the Centre for
Social Development undertook creative and innovative projects
with the communities of Kliptown, Eldorado Park and Soweto.
In 1980 Ms. Anne Letsebe was appointed to the faculty of the
School of Social Work; this was the first appointment of a
black member of staff.
From the 1980s
onwards the faculty of the School of Social Work published
books, journal articles, newsletters and popular articles
which raised awareness of and challenged the injustices of
apartheid and critically evaluated apartheid welfare and its
The School of Social Work of Wits hosted a research into restructuring
social welfare options for a new South Africa which was undertaken
by Leila Patel. This research became the basis for the present
legislation for social welfare.
Faculty, students and graduates were detained during the mid-1980s.
The faculty of the School of Social Work participated in a
Wits protest against the reintroduction of the quota system
A number of faculty and graduates of the School of Social
Work were founding members of the Concerned Social Workers
in 1985. This organization politicized Welfare and responded
to some of the brutal outcomes of apartheid. Inter alia it
held a number of conferences which were addressed by speakers
such as Ellen Khuzwayo, David Webster, Paul Verryn and Albie
Sachs. It also played a role in politicizing the profession.
The School of Social Work provided facilities for anti-apartheid
activities. Anti-apartheid organizations (Concerned Social
Workers, Detainee Parent Support Committee, Detainee Counselling
Service, Emergency Service Group) held meetings, seminars
and training functions throughout the 1980s and early 1990s
at the School of Social Work.
In 1986, two faculty members were detained and charged with
holding an illegal assembly overnight in the Hillbrow police
station during a protest against the detention of other students.
Charges against them were later dropped.
In 1987 the School of Social Work organized a Golden Jubilee
Conference entitled The Contribution of Social Work in a Changing
South Africa. At this conference, social work educators, practitioners
and students made calls for and commitments to:
• Developing strategies on how the apartheid welfare
could be dismantled;
• Democratizing social welfare services;
• Determining new welfare priorities based on the needs
of the majority South
• Formulating welfare policies which are promotive,
preventive and developmental;
• Opening up the debate on the role that the state should
be taking in terms of social service delivery (Patel, 1987).
In 1987 the entire staff of the School of Social Work joined
Vice-Chancellor Karl Tober and 6,000 students at a protest
meeting. The protest was against the government’s demand
that university authorities prevent or report any political
activities, unrest incidents and disturbances to the Minister
of Education. Non-compliance meant withdrawal of subsidy.
The staff of the School of Social Work supported students
who were politically involved; faculty rescheduled lectures
to accommodate their needs and to make up for lectures missed
during activist activities; and provided moral, spiritual
and emotional support.
FAILURE TO PROVIDE AN EQUITABLE TERTIARY EDUCATIONAL ENVIROMENT
We as social work educators acknowledged and took responsibility
for the following:
1. The School of Social Work colluded with the state apparatus
and neglected to educate black students at the undergraduate
level from 1959 until 1976. For nearly 20 years the School
of Social Work devoted most of its time and expertise to educating
white students. Despite the fact that Wits was considered
an “open” university, the School of Social Work’s
first black research master’s degree was only awarded
2. Placement of students for practice. The School of Social
Work admitted black students starting in 1976. However, when
it came to their practical training, they were placed in agencies
rendering segregated social services in compliance with Consolidated
Circular No. 59. This situation continued until the mid-1980s
when the School of Social Work, in collaboration with the
Johannesburg Child Welfare Society, required black students
to work cross-culturally.
3. Within the global context of the development of the methods
in social work, clinical practice dominated until the 1980s.
In addition, in South Africa, government subsidization of
social work posts supported one-to-one delivery of services,
thereby neglecting social and community development. Social
work education reflected this imbalance and did not sufficiently
and concertedly lead the way in responding to community needs.
4. During the apartheid era, the School of Social Work neglected
to educate social work students with a radical perspective
which locates the challenges of vulnerable people within social,
political and economic structures. Students were not sufficiently
educated in social action and as agents of social change.
In addition, we neglected to sufficiently shape the students’
social consciousness and conscience and we may not have created
the sufficient awareness in students of the prevailing injustice,
deprivation and poverty which had been generated within the
5. Social work education did not consistently articulate power
issues within the profession and the social structures. Inequality
regarding race, gender, homosexuality, disability and locality
was not highlighted in the curriculum until 1993.
6. A close bond should exist between a university and the
community in which it is located. This fit became unbalanced
when our university was perceived to collude with political
expediency. When our school started admitting Black students,
many of them came from rural areas and the education they
received did not sufficiently prepare or encourage them to
return to their rural communities. In consequence, social
development was thus retarded and rural South Africans did
not benefit from social work services.
7. As social work educators, we did not offer continuing education
for our colleagues in the field who were faced with cross-cultural
challenges and social inequalities derived from the political
context of segregation.
8. After black students were admitted to the university, we
did not adequately acquaint ourselves with the financial plight
of poor students, nor their particular challenges in entering
a Euro-centric first world university. Nor did we, as social
work educators, seek outside assistance with the challenges
posed to us by the entry of these students to our school.
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for the I.U.C. Journal of Social Work Theory and Practice
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