This opinion piece was written as part of ‘Addressing Socioeconomic Drivers of Violence in Khulumani Communities,’ a participatory action research project run by Khulumani Support Group Western Cape and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. A shorter version of the opinion piece  was published in the Cape Times on 26 October 2016.


Asikaqedi -- Still Struggling for Redress

This year is the 20th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and October 29th marks 18 years since the TRC presented its final report to President Nelson Mandela. We call for support in urging the government to provide adequate education, healthcare and housing for survivors of gross human rights violations, in line with the TRC’s recommendations and the rights provided for in the constitution.

As members of the Western Cape branch of Khulumani Support Group, the national apartheid-era survivors’ organisation, we see that the situation in our communities has not changed much since the transition to democracy, despite the rights provided for in the South African constitution. Survivors of gross human rights violations still live in abject poverty and our communities are suffering from a high rate of crime and violence.

For this reason, we decided to conduct research with Khulumani members and their children and grandchildren on their understanding of how poverty and inequality relate to crime and violence. The research, which focused on area committees in Khayelitsha, aimed to show how inequality and violence have increased since apartheid, how this affects survivors, and what their solutions are to the challenges they face every day.

We found that poverty and the trauma of apartheid violence have been transferred to younger generations of Khulumani families. Young people today are struggling even more because of inequality and lack of access to opportunities. This is one of the main causes of crime and violence in our communities.

Our research shows that we need redress for the inequality entrenched by the apartheid system, in addition to apartheid-era violence, in order to see social transformation in the future.

The Khulumani members we interviewed said that although all South Africans now have equal rights, increasing inequality means that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Those with power have more access to opportunities and services, such as reliable work, quality education, good healthcare and decent housing.

Older Khulumani members had limited opportunities because of the apartheid system, and now their children and grandchildren are facing the same thing.

Employment is available mostly for those with high education levels, work experience and social networks with connections. What makes this worse in our communities is nepotism and corruption among ward councillors, some of whom give opportunities to family and friends, instead of to those who deserve them.

With the high rate of unemployment, people feel forced to take any work that is available, even if it is low-paid, short-term and does not give skills or lead to new opportunities.

Our research shows that because of unemployment and unreliable work, parents and grandparents cannot afford fees at quality schools, or even the cost of fees, uniforms and transport to under-resourced schools in our communities. This says that education is not really free.

Many youth drop out of school because they are discriminated against by teachers and other learners for not being able to afford full uniforms. Youth also drop out to provide for their families, taking what low-quality work is available. Our interviews show that some drop out because they do not expect to get reliable work even if they have matric, since their families cannot afford the tertiary education required by most employers. Like their parents before them, youth see little chance of improving their situation under these conditions.

As with education, most families cannot afford quality healthcare. Under-resourced public hospitals and clinics in our communities do not provide adequate service. Because they have too few doctors and medicines, patients may queue all day only to receive no treatment, and eventually treatment that is often low-quality or negligent. This especially affects Khulumani members and their families, who are struggling with the health effects of apartheid abuses.

Khulumani members continue every day to cope with the psychological trauma of past violations like torture, disappearances and murders of family members, unjust incarceration and forced removals, which leads to flashbacks, depression, anger and in many cases violence in the home.

Their children and grandchildren have grown up with this trauma in their lives, which is made worse by being crowded into small RDP houses or shacks in informal settlements. The intergenerational trauma of apartheid abuses has been followed by the second trauma of on-going poverty and lack of opportunities.

The Khulumani members we interviewed said that youth are despondent because they see no future for themselves, frustrated with government’s broken promises and holding more anger than older Khulumani members who had some opportunity to talk publicly about the violations of the past.

Combined with escape into alcohol and drugs, which often leads youth into housebreaking and other crime, our research says that this situation is one of the roots of violence in the home and in our communities.

As an organisation made up mostly of women, we see that women and girls are most affected both by this violence and by poverty and lack of opportunities.

Khulumani has developed many strategies for addressing these challenges, including income-generation projects, skill-building and trainings for members, recruiting youth into our programmes and ongoing advocacy around reparations.

We argue that for the current situation in South Africa to change, the government must follow the constitution and the TRC’s recommendations by providing redress for past injustices through adequate education, healthcare and housing for survivors of gross human rights violations. This must include survivors not registered on the TRC’s closed list. Asikaqedi – let’s finish what we started.

The authors are members of the executive committee of Khulumani Support Group Western Cape.