Although still in the early months of 2010, South Africans have already undergone substantive national reflection on where we have come from as a country – and where we want to be. February saw widespread commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of former president FW de Klerk’s announcement to parliament of the unbanning of the ANC and other political organisations, and several days later, the historic release of Nelson Mandela from prison.
The upcoming 2010 Soccer World Cup has inspired shared recollections of South Africa’s unique history, emphatic displays of the national colours, and boisterous calls to support Bafana Bafana, not least from government.
In delivering his State of the Nation Address, President Jacob Zuma reminded the country how South Africans have been able to ‘come together, even under the most difficult of circumstances, and to put the country’s interests first’. Capturing the bonhomie of the national mood, he called upon the public to ‘recommit ourselves to reconciliation, national unity, non-racialism and building a better future together’.
However, amid these celebrations remain stark reminders of what IJR executive director Fanie du Toit calls the ‘unfinished business’ of our past, including the challenge of ensuring victim participation in presidential pardons processes open to perpetrators of apartheid crimes, the continuing struggles for reparations and restitution, and prospects for overcoming South Africa’s deeply embedded social and economic inequalities.
In this edition of the Newsletter, Jan Hofmeyr analyses the important opportunities for nation-building and reconciliation, in addition to economic development, brought about by the Soccer World Cup. However, results of the IJR’s recently-released Transformation Audit suggest that while South African economic policy and institutions have provided some protection against the backlash of the global recession, its impact has nonetheless been severe, and has disproportionately impacted on the poor, unskilled and unemployed. Steering the country through these challenges and meeting developmental targets will require strong and innovative leadership from President Zuma in an important year for the country.
A coalition of civil-society organisations, including the IJR, recently lodged a successful Constitutional Court challenge against the exclusion of victims of apartheid crimes from participation in government’s Special Dispensation for Presidential Pardons for Political Offences. Fanie du Toit revisits the principles of victim participation that underscored the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) process, and assesses the implications of this ruling for ongoing reconciliation efforts.
Also in relation to victims of apartheid crimes, Gabriella Sacramone-Lutz assesses changes in the South African government’s stance on the Khulumani Support Group’s Aliens Tort Claim in a US court, against multinational corporations that allegedly aided and abetted in the committing of apartheid crimes. As described by Khulumani director Marjorie Jobson, the case brings to question the ‘moral agency’ of corporations in the context of international customary law.
Reflecting on the significance of the anniversary of the unbanning of the ANC and release of Nelson Mandela, I spoke to former minister of constitutional affairs, Roelf Meyer, about the political climate in February of 1990, the importance of commemorating this series of events, and the health of multiparty democracy in South Africa today. I also share some results of the 2009 SA Reconciliation Barometer survey, released in December.
Finally, Suren Pillay, editor of Truth vs Justice? The Dilemmas of Transitional Justice in Africa, examines how the TRC process has shaped current conceptions of justice, and whether a new approach to understanding apartheid’s ‘living legacy’ would lead to more successful strategies for crossing racial divides and achieving equality and transformation.
This year is also an important one for the IJR, as we celebrate our tenth anniversary. While a new website is soon to be launched, information on upcoming events is available on the SA Reconciliation Barometer blog at http://www.sabarometerblog.wordpress.com, and through the Institute’s Facebook group.
I hope you find this edition of the Newsletter thought-provoking in both its reflections on the past and questions for the future, and as always, readers are encouraged to leave comments on the blog in response. If you are interested in contributing to the Newsletter this year, you are encouraged to contact me on kate -at-ijr.org.za.