Johannesburg - The imminent public release of almost 150 formerly inaccessible Truth and Reconciliation transcripts is expected to stir tensions in an already volatile Kwa-Zulu Natal (KZN) because its contents reveal the extent of collaboration between traditional authorities in the region and apartheid’s death squads.
The records, released by the justice department to the South African History Archives (Saha) are the transcripts of confidential hearings, conducted under subpoena in terms of section 29 of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act (1995) which, up until now, have not been available to the public.
The documents, extracts of which appeared in the seven-volume TRC final report, are critical to understanding the nature, scope and reach of the terror networks that turned pre-democracy South Africa into a bloodbath. They feature the testimonies, under oath, of some of the most prominent authors of human rights violations.
Saha director Catherine Kennedy confirmed this week that the first batch of these documents is ready for public release.
A TRC insider with knowledge of the contents said this collection will shed light on numerous politically motivated assassinations and specifically the involvement of traditional authorities and their security instruments.
This includes the inside stories of security force projects such as operation Marion, which involved the training and deployment of death squads.
The TRC final report states that: “Close to half of all statements reporting gross human rights abuses received were from the KwaZulu-Natal region. This makes the proportion of submissions relative to population almost four times higher for this province than for the rest of the country.”
Kennedy noted that once the documents have been scanned and made searchable, Saha would “input the text from each transcript into the searchable and cross-reference database on the Saha/SABC Truth Commission Special Report website: http:// sabctrc.saha.org.za”
This, she said, would enable people to simultaneously search for particular people, organisations, events or themes across various types of TRC records “to hone in on stories they’re interested in, and join the dots”.
Kennedy suggested that Saha was “in the business of opening up the archive and creating direct access to records, so that people can make their own assessment and construct their own arguments.”
It is that access, by ordinary people, to this secret information that may well set the cat among the pigeons for people such as King Zwelithini.
One person, mentioned on the list, for instance, is Joe Verster, former commander of the Civil Cooperation Bureau. His transcript, for instance, reflects an intense fight with Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, who ruled during his hearing that he could be photographed. In understanding that one day that transcript would become public, Verster could’ve anticipated that the victims of his covert actions might want access to him.
It is this “dogged defence of transparency and accountability” that motivated Ntsebeza and others to release the transcripts because, he reasons, “we cannot have a society shrouded in secrecy”.
However, even as Saha is releasing these transcripts, Ntsebeza is concerned that danger lurks.
“Even as one door is opening, we now have the Prevention of Access to Information Act, about which we have to be concerned,” the former TRC investigative unit boss said.
The Sunday Independent