Therese Marie Sacco
SOCIAL EXCLUSION: EXPERIENCES OF SOME OF APARTHEID’S
VICTIMS OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS POST THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION
number of South Africans are socially excluded. Many of apartheid’s
victims of gross human rights violations live with added challenges,
and experience profound marginalization. This paper briefly
explores aspects of South Africa’s socio-economic context
as they affect people living in poverty, the South African
social welfare context, experiences of victims of gross human
rights violations, their evaluation of the South African Truth
and Reconciliation Commission and the implications for social
SOUTH AFRICA’S SOCIO-ECONOMIC CONTEXT OF THOSE LIVING
The major cause of social exclusion in South Africa is a lack
of access to sources of income. In South Africa the ‘poverty
line’, which separates the ‘poor’ from the
‘non-poor’, can be defined by considering the
poorest 40% of households as ‘poor’ (about 19
million people or just under 50% of the population), giving
a monthly household expenditure level of R353 per adult equivalent
In July 1999 South Africa had a population of almost 43,5
million. Twenty six million households have had no source
of income, 10 million households had inadequate income to
provide for food and 10 million households had an income below
the poverty line (South African Human Rights Commission, 2001).
The government’s anti-poverty programs have reached
only 3 million of the country’s poor (Mamaila, 2001).
In addition, from the South African Human Rights Commission
(2001) report, it is evident that there are serious gaps within
the social security and assistance system, both structurally
and in terms of delivery are evident. At present, social security
includes old age pensions, social assistance (subsidies to
non-governmental welfare organizations), disability grants,
poverty alleviation programs, child support grants and foster
child grants. Today, unemployment insurance covers less that
40% of the labor force and offers less than 6% benefits to
those unemployed. Disability provisions are not comprehensive
and of those who are eligible for a disability grant, only
23% are receiving them. Of the people eligible for old age
pension, 75% are accessing those pensions. There are no child
benefits for children older than 7 years. In addition, it
was noted that corruption, fraud and theft are serious issues
that have compromised the realization of access to the social
security system that is presently available.
South Africa has a Constitution that protects socio-economic
rights. However, a basic social security infrastructure is
lacking, despite the fact that South Africa has the financial
capacity to lift people from poverty (van den Heever, 2002).
In the research for the Poverty and Inequality Report (May,
1998) those living with poverty identified their poverty in
the following ways:
Alienation from the community. People see themselves as isolated
from institutions of kinship and community.
• Food insecurity. Families are unable to provide sufficient
or healthy food for their families.
• Crowded homes.
• Lack of access to safe and efficient sources of energy.
In rural areas, many people walk long distances to gather
firewood and water.
• Lack of adequately paid, secure jobs. There is a lack
of job opportunities, wages are low and there is a lack of
• Fragmentation of family. Many households living with
poverty are distinguished by absent fathers and children living
apart from their parents. The need for survival often splits
families over a number of locations.
clear that large numbers of South Africans remain vulnerable
to the harsh reality of poverty with very limited means to
break out of it. Many victims of apartheid’s gross human
rights violations live with the outcomes of poverty and feel
that their gross human rights violation experiences have tipped
them from the fringes of poverty into destitution and pervasive
forms of social exclusion.
THE SOUTH AFRICAN SOCIAL WELFARE CONTEXT
after South Africa experienced her first democratic election,
the White Paper for Social Welfare (1997) was adopted as the
policy framework for developmental social welfare. Social
welfare was seen as an integrated and comprehensive, participatory,
egalitarian system of social services, facilities and programs,
and social security to promote social development, social
justice and social functioning (Midgley, 1998; Potgieter,
1998). This challenged social workers and social work educators
to reposition themselves for effective education and service
delivery, with social development as the central approach
to education and intervention (Letsebe, 1998; Lombard, 1999).
Social workers are the major players within developmental
social welfare (Mazibuko, 1998).
Post apartheid funding available to social workers saw a shift
from subsidizing social work posts and unit costs of facilities
and services to financing social work programs that uphold
the principles as outlined in the White Paper for Social Welfare
(1997). These include: securing basic welfare rights; equity;
non-discrimination; democracy; improved quality of life; human
rights; people centered policies; investment in human capital;
sustainability; partnership; intersectorial partnerships;
decentralization of service delivery; quality service; transparency
and accountability; accessibility; appropriateness; and Ubuntu
South African social workers are located mainly within, and
associated with the social welfare sector. They work within
international organizations (e.g. United Nations International
Children’s Emergency Fund [UNICEF]), national government
departments (e.g. Social Development, Housing, Health, Justice
and Education), provincial welfare departments, non-government
organizations (dealing with poverty and unemployment, child
and family welfare, disability, elderly people, HIV/AIDS,
illness and death, offenders, violence and trauma,) as well
as church-affiliated service initiatives (assisting refugees
and victims of abuse, poverty and life crises).
The ANC government declared itself an ally to those professions
and organizations that are committed to the just redistribution
of services and resources. Thus, social workers are challenged
to see themselves as partners in the pursuit of best alternatives
for service delivery with a basis of social justice and human
rights (Ntusi, 1998). This includes having an impact on developing
national social policy as well as service delivery.
The extracts that follow are from a research project into
the ways in which victims/survivors of gross human rights
violations are living with the consequences of human rights
for this qualitative inquiry emanates from 13 in-depth interviews
with victims/survivors of gross human rights violations from
the Gauteng and the North Western Province regions. These
two of the nine South African provinces provided opportunities
to gather diverse views and experiences. Particularly, these
two regions offered opportunities to explore both rural and
Survivors were those who were assessed as ‘victims’
of gross human rights violations by South Africa’s Truth
and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) defined inclusion. These
violations are defined in the Promotion of National Unity
and Reconciliation Act (No. 34 of 1995) as torture, murder,
abduction and severe ill treatment perpetrated by any person
acting with a political motive. The TRC’s Human Rights
Violation Committee was mandated to hear accounts of violations
occurring between 1 March 1960 and 5 December 1993.
Purposive and availability sampling was used to gather information
for this inquiry. Participants were accessed through Khulumani,
an organization set up in 1995 by and for victims of gross
human rights violations countrywide.
Further information in support of this paper was gleaned from
observers of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation
of Preliminary Findings
section of the paper covers some biographic information of
the participants and the gross human rights violations they
Information of Participants
and three men participated in this study. At the time of the
inquiry, one participant was 84 years, two were in their 70’s,
five were in their 60’s, three were in their 40’s
and two were in their 30’s.
Four participants defined themselves as belonging to the Sotho-speaking
people, two to the Zulu-speaking people, two to the Xhoza-speaking
people and two to the Tswana-speaking people. Two participants
defined themselves as belonging to both the Zulu- and Sotho-speaking
people and one to the Sotho- and Shangaan-speaking people.
One participant had no dependents, one had one dependent,
four had two dependents, one had three dependents, three had
five dependents, two had seven dependents, and one had ten
One participant had no schooling, one had completed 4th grade,
one 6th grade, one 7th grade, three 8th grade, two 10th grade,
one 11th grade, and two 12th grade.
Eleven participants said that they were Christians. Five of
them belonged to mainstream denominations, three to Evangelical
movements and two to African-Christian traditions. One participant
said she was a Christian, though, she had not participated
in a church community since the disappearance of her husband,
after which the church community treated her like a widow.
She did not accept that status foisted on her. One participant
believed in the traditional respect of ancestors only and
one participant said he was attracted to Islam, although,
there are no Muslim communities where he lived. He attended
Rastafarian rub-a-dubs in his community.
One participant was employed as a Senator in Regional Government
and received an income. Three participants had no source of
income. One participant was a sales representative with an
unstable income. One participant received a disability grant,
while seven received state old-age pensions, including one
who tried to supplement her grant by selling funeral policies.
Human Rights Violations Experienced by Participants
experiences of gross human rights violations occurred in the
context of apartheid’s formal repression and informal
repression tactics (Coleman, 1989). Formal repression included
repressive forms with which the apartheid regime empowered
itself through legislation (for example, detentions without
trial). Informal repression were those forms which fell outside
the direct controls of formal security legislation, but which
were operated by state structures as well as ‘unknown’
persons. These included vigilante groups that developed around
apartheid-created homelands and local black authorities, as
well as the hit squads of apartheid’s security structures.
Vigilante and hit squad activities as well as riot police
were responsible for the massacres and disappearances of victims
in this inquiry.
The following accounts outline the contexts of the specific
incidences in which participants were brutalized.
Massacre: March 1960
In 1960, the National Party, authors of the Apartheid system,
extended pass laws to include women. The pass laws regulated
the movement of African people in South Africa and required
that Africans carry identification known as a “dompas”
with them at all times. There was widespread dissatisfaction
and people were galvanized into taking mass action. This culminated
in the killing of 69 demonstrators on Monday, 21 March 1960
in Sharpville. Police had opened fire on about 300 protesters
and most of the victims were shot in the back.
Missing in 1986
The two incidences of disappearances included in this study
related to ten youths who were executed at Nieverdiend and
nine others in KwaNedebele.
The early 1980s ushered in the era of covert, extra-legal
government actions against anti-apartheid activists in South
Africa. An undercover security policeman, Joe Mamasela, pretending
to be a top member of the African National Congress’
(ANC) military wing, infiltrated groups of youths in Mamelodi,
Pretoria. These youths were lured to their deaths by being
told that they were going to Botswana to join the ANC for
military training. A combined security police and military
hit squad orchestrated their executions. The youths were made
to drink beer and were given injections so that they lost
consciousness. In the Nieverdiend incident, they were then
placed in a Volkswagen Kombi, which was packed with explosives
and then blown up. In the Kwandebele incident, 9 youths were
taken to a house in Kwandebele and were set alight.
during 1990 – 1993
These massacres included the Boipatong massacre (June 1992);
Chris Hani Vigil massacre (April 1993); and Sebokeng massacre
(July 1993). The violence of this period took the form of
internecine conflict rather than direct conflict with security
forces, as was seen in previous periods. This conflict was
concentrated in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area,
from where some participants of this inquiry come. Rivalries
between hostel-dwellers, who had an allegiance to Inkatha,
and residents of adjacent townships, loyal to the ANC, were
a major source of conflict. Ethnicity emerged as a decisive
dynamic in these conflicts (Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
Participants were also involved in the extended and ongoing
low intensity civil war, as experienced by participants in
Jouberton, North West Province.
Participants described different forms of gross human rights
violations they experienced. Some participants experienced
more than one kind of violation: sons and husbands disappeared;
homes were bombed and razed to the ground; family members
were shot during night vigils, at political marches and on
the streets, some of whom died; family members were assaulted
and stabbed in their homes, some of whom died; many were detained
on a series of occasions for prolonged periods and brutally
assaulted by the police while in detention.
Impact of Gross Human Rights Violations
spoke of the different areas of their lives that were affected
by their gross human rights experiences. The impact was on
their physical and mental health, their education, their work,
their sense of themselves, and their relationships within
the family and their communities. Other family members were
affected as well. Some families have had difficulty surviving.
and mental health
Through the brutality, participants continue to live with
the outcomes of physical torture and assault: loss of hearing;
loss of sexual potency; damage to vocal cords and eye-sight;
bad headaches; chest problems; and physical tension.
Participants reported continuous trauma responses: loss of
memory and concentration; nightmares; unexpressed anger towards
perpetrators; sadness and depression; expressions of anger
towards family members; and feelings of isolation within the
One participant felt guilty that the police brutalized his
father who lost an eye when the police came looking for him,
and that his mother died of a heart attack. He blames himself
because he cannot raise his children and cannot take care
of his father. He feels abandoned by the leadership of “the
organization we loved so much, they are destroying rather
than building us.”
Many families whose loved ones were abducted, tortured and
murdered did not know what had happened to their loved ones
for nearly 10 years. During that period they lived without
knowing: experiencing sleepless nights; unable to eat; and
spending time and money searching for their loved ones. One
woman cannot accept the circumstances of her husband’s
death: “He is a human being, not a chicken or a goat.
Just imagine, sitting for nine years without knowing his whereabouts.”
A number of participants said that they developed high blood
pressure and diabetes after the gross human rights violation
experience. One woman had had a stroke. Another participant
said that he became very angry: he abused alcohol and became
a criminal-perpetrating violence against his own community.
This made him feel inhuman, “like an empty tin”.
His inability to find employment led him to steal from his
family and members of his community and surrounding communities.
Another participant also spoke of alcohol abuse which he explained
was because, “because I’m doing nothing …
and getting rid of the pain.”
Detentions interrupted schooling and some participants lost
opportunities for furthering education, “I wanted to
be a lawyer, those things changed everything, I could not
make it in school”. One participant, who is a correspondence
student, has not yet finished his studies, as he was not able
to study full time, and continues to have difficulty concentrating.
relationships were affected
A participant felt that his family did not understand what
had happened to him and therefore he could not respect his
family nor could he listen to their counsel.
on family members
Families who experienced disappearances of their loved ones
suffer terribly. Two women spoke of the difficulty of surviving
and providing for their families since the disappearance of
their husbands. The education of their children has also been
The mothers of the Nieverdient 10 and KwaNedbele 9 lost young
teenagers of 16 and 17 years. A woman said that the family
has no peace at home: there is no joy, only sadness and depression.
Other women echoed this: their families are depressed, suffering
emotionally, worried about what happened, tormented when thinking
about their children and feel nervous.
There are profound feelings of loss, loss of the presence
of their loved ones: “He was the candle in the house”;
loss of hope for the future, “he could be a teacher,
a social worker, he could be something big by this time”.
Those who receive old age pensions experience economic hardship,
as their pensions do not cover their rent: “They are
eating us there in Mamelodi, the government gives us the money,
but we give it back … My rent is R800, and I’m
One woman said that her disappeared grandson’s mother
died of a heart attack soon after she heard of his disappearance
and when her husband saw the charred bones of their grandson
he too collapsed and died, as their grandson, “was his
After the brutal murder of his son in front of their house,
a father developed a severe mental illness and never recovered.
He has since died.
A participant said that his mother was severely affected by
his harassment by police. She could not visit him out of fear
for her own life. He felt that the stress of worrying about
him was too great for her and had led to her death.
After a participant had been detained, his mother died of
a heart attack.
on community relationships
A woman spoke of her isolation in her community. The community
was scared of her since the murder of her son and the bombing
of her home. She felt the community hated her and called her
a witch. On the anniversary of the bombing of her house, her
daughter became ill.
of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Participants is in this study those who had testified at the
TRC felt that testifying was a positive experience. It was
a public platform from which to tell their stories of torture
and suffering. They were happy to put the record straight
and tell the world what happened to them. It assisted in reducing
their stress and allowed people to come forward and seek pardon.
It was at the amnesty hearings that some of those whose loved
ones disappeared heard for the first time what had happened
to them. The TRC was successful in revealing many facts for
the families of victims who had disappeared and had shed light
on the perpetrators. The TRC exposed many aspects of life
under apartheid and educated communities about gross human
These insights from participants are supported by observations
that the truth-telling process, official acknowledgment, exhumations
and reburials, and exoneration from blame were healing (Biko,
2000; Henry, 2000; Meiring, 2000; Mgxashe, 2000; Ntsebeza,
However, post the TRC, one of the most difficult challenges
is the neglect of victims. Participants pointed to various
issues that are problematic for them. Perpetrators who did
not come forward have not been dealt with. Some perpetrators
were not remorseful and should not have received amnesty.
Perpetrators were not expected to apologize to the families.
Some felt that the TRC could have consulted the families when
deciding on amnesty. The amnesty hearings made the resolution
of trauma very difficult: they did not help with coming to
terms with loss.
The TRC closed down before some of the issues were resolved.
Some families do not know where the remains of their loved
ones are buried, but they want the remains found and exhumed
for burials, to honor the dignity of the dead.
In addition, the TRC raised victims’ expectations about
the help that would be forthcoming. The victims felt that
the TRC promised reparations and financial assistance for:
Funeral costs of buried loved ones
• Medical intervention relating to gross human rights
• Education of children of those who lost their lives
• Rebuilding of bombed homes
clear that many victims feel that they have been ignored and
abandoned. The TRC was not empowered to implement reparations,
only to propose a policy for reparations (Borraine, 2000).
One of the most distressing issues for victims as well as
for human rights organizations has been the disparity in response
to victims and perpetrators (Orr, 2000). Perpetrators experienced
immediate delivery of amnesty, while reparations to victims
have not yet been delivered. This was underscored by Ntsebeza
(2000), who said that victims might have reconciled with perpetrators’
amnesty had the TRC been more proactive regarding reparatory
measures. Thus the response to the victims’ psychological
needs of reparation and support have lacked sensitivity (Biko,
Challenges Post the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Subsequent to the TRC, the South African government seemed
to move away from the idea of money as compensation in favor
of an emphasis on community restitution and symbolic reparation
(Rassool, Witz & Minkley, 2000). While symbolic reparation
is crucial, it should not minimize the need for concrete reparation
measures (Orr, 2000).
In addition, there is concern that the government is hostile
to the spirit and intent of the law that set up the TRC in
1995 (Daniel, 2002). The South African President, Mbeki, took
court action to block the publication of the TRC’s final
report in 1999. No member of government has commented on the
report’s recommendations, let alone attempted to implement
them, and no final reparations have been paid out. Most recently,
the government has begun moves to pardon failed amnesty applicants.
In May 2002, 33 offenders were pardoned. These steps to grant
blanket amnesty to those who the Minister of Justice argued
had “participated in the struggle” are overturning
the value of the TRC and contributing to a culture of impunity.
The fear is that the next step will be collective amnesty.
Perpetrators remain in community and government structures.
Many perpetrators who should have applied for amnesty have
not come forward to own up for their actions and given reasons
for their actions. Some of the perpetrators who applied for
amnesty did not reveal all the facts and some families need
to know where the remains of their loved ones are buried.
Perpetrators who did not come forward during the TRC era have
not been charged. This is despite the fact that legislation
is in place for doing so: “The hostility of this government
to the TRC, has in effect, further victimized casualties of
apartheid” (Daniel, 2002:19).
FOR SOCIAL WORKERS
are being made that investment in people should become the
basis for sustainable development in South Africa. Legum (2002)
identifies investment to mean putting in resources now, so
that wealth can be created in the future. As she notes, an
educated and healthy nation is a nation of creative, enterprising
and self-motivating people. Thus, healthy and educated people
do not result from development, they drive it. This idea of
investing in people is a fundamental dimension of social work’s
understanding of social justice. Saleebey (1990) points out
that policies and agendas favoring human development and enriching
human experiences must take precedence over all others. The
committee of inquiry into a comprehensive system of social
security also proposed that the state adopt a broad concept
of social protection that includes preventive social strategies,
in the form of minimum-income support (van den Heever, 2002).
One of the most vulnerable groups emerging in South Africa
comprises those who suffered brutal inhumanity - torture,
repeated assaults and degrading treatment, abduction, bombings
and detention. These crimes against humanity are “inhumane
acts of a very serious nature” Mertus (2000:175), and
continue to define all aspects of most victims’ lives.
The social exclusion that victim/survivors suffer is pervasive
and requires that social workers hear their cries and respond
through humanity as well as activism. Social workers need
to join them in the call for reparations (education, health
care, housing and social assistance); in the call for justice
in relation to perpetrators who did not come forward; and
lastly, insist that the state uncover facts as yet unknown
of those who disappeared: “where are the bones of my
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