Friday (3/21) is Human Rights Day in South Africa. And on this day, the final report of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the TRC, was handed over to President Thabo Mbeki.
The commission was set up to address the many years of civil and human rights abuses under apartheid. Many South Africans hope the final report will clear the way for reparations to be paid to the victims of apartheid. The government reportedly has set aside about 100 million dollars for about eighteen thousand people.
Among those calling for quick action on reparations is Father Michael Lapsley, director of a non-governmental organization called the “Working Group on Reparations.” From Cape Town, he spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the TRC’s final report.
He calls it “a significant moment.” He says, “The truth commission process was quite an extraordinary way in which the people of South Africa confronted its past.” But he says the main concern that many people have now is “that the government should act very rapidly to implement the final reparations that were proposed by the TRC.”
Father Lapsley admits that no price can be put on a person’s pain and suffering. But he says reparations are both symbolic and tangible and “show that what happened to people was wrong, that their suffering is being honored,” even if it’s being done in “an incomplete way.”
He says the TRC “laid the prerequisite” for healing in South Africa following apartheid. It is “a basis of truth, an acknowledgement of the truth of what we did to each other.” He says it is the basis for “the long journey of reconciliation.”
However, he warns that if reparations don’t happen “fast and generously, there will be a bitter taste left in the mouths of many relatives of victims and survivors. So, in a sense, within the country the jury is still out on the truth commission.”