table of contents | abstracts



Therese Marie Sacco
Wilma Hoffmann
University of Witwatersrand SAR






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 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 of society;
• 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 (Omar, 1996).
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 Violations Committee
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 victims.
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 hearings.
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 process.

3. Reparation 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 have suffered.
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 subpoena witnesses.
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 helped.
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.



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 until 1958.
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 follows:

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:

The University 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.

Despite Wits 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 permission.
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 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 consequences.
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 in 1985.
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.


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 in 1984.
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 apartheid system.
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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