Thursday, April 17, 2003

South Africa Will Pay $3,900 to Apartheid Victims' Families

South Africa Will Pay $3,900 to Apartheid Victims' Families by Ginger Thompson

JOHANNESBURG, April 15 2003. President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said today that his government would pay reparations totaling $85 million to more than 19,000 victims of apartheid crimes who testified about their suffering before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In a speech before Parliament, President Mbeki said the family of each victim would receive a one-time payment of about $3,900. That compares with the average annual salary here of about $3,000. "We hope that these disbursements will help acknowledge the suffering that these individuals experienced, and offer some relief," he said.

His announcement followed years of intense political pressure on the government to fulfill its promise to the thousands of victims whose harrowing testimony of mutilation, rape and murder illuminated the dark history of apartheid. That pressure mounted last month when Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel laureate and chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, delivered its final report and expressed concern that the government had let victims down.

The reparations payments fall far short of the $360 million requested by the commission. But Mr. Mbeki cautioned that no amount of money could make up for the suffering. He also said the government had begun broader reforms, including programs to give blacks a greater stake in mining and other industries.

Graeme Simpson, executive director of the Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, called the payments insulting. "There is no magnanimity in this gesture," he said. Apartheid victims like Ntombi Mosikare said Mr. Mbeki's words stung like salt in a wound. Ms. Mosikare, who leads a support group for victims, said they expected more money from the government as an acknowledgment of their suffering. They had also hoped President Mbeki would extend reparations to people afraid to share their stories with the commission.

"We are not putting a price tag on our pain," said Ms. Mosikare, whose 19-year-old brother was killed in a grenade attack against student leaders in 1985. "We only want the country to acknowledge us. What they are giving us is too little." In his speech today, President Mbeki also announced that his government would not issue a general amnesty for the perpetrators of past abuses, saying that would undermine the seven years of work by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In its struggle to usher South Africa through a peaceful transition from white minority rule, this country's first black government empowered the commission to grant amnesty to those who came forward with true accounts of politically motivated crimes. But most of apartheid's architects and enforcers stayed away from the inquiry.

President Mbeki also addressed pressure from South Africa's corporate community by rejecting the commission's call for a wealth tax on businesses to raise reparations funds. He said the government would pay reparations from a special "presidential fund." He invited individual South Africans, both black and white, to make contributions.

In another nod to business interests, Mr. Mbeki criticized lawsuits filed in United States courts demanding apartheid damages from corporations. He said the government would not take part in the lawsuits. Alec Erwin, the minister of trade and industry, said the government would not enforce judgments made in foreign courts.

New York Times, 16 April 2003

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