However, the unit's political head, Dumisa Ntsebeza, sounded optimistic when he presented five top Dutch and Danish detectives, who will make up part of the unit's international contingent, to the media on Wednesday.
“The team will be in place before the first hearing,” he said.
Ntsebeza confirmed no South Africans had yet been appointed to the unit, saying the first interviews for investigators would be held in the Eastern Cape next week.
These would be followed by interviews in the Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.
He attributed the delay in the appointment of local detectives to the unit to the lack of suitably qualified candidates.
“Some of the best investigators in the SAPS have been drawn into the ITU (Investigations Task Unit) while others have been absorbed into (Transvaal attorney-general) Jan D'Oliviera's team which is investigating third force activities,” he said.
Ntsebeza, an Umtata attorney appointed to the Truth Commission last December, said the commission had tried unsuccessfully to head-hunt the ITU commander Lt-Col Frank Dutton.
The unit was responsible for bringing former Defence Minister Magnus Malan and his 19 accused to trial in the Durban Supreme Court on charges relating to the 1987 KwaMakutha massacre.
Ntsebeza said the ongoing trial had ruled out any possibility of Dutton's appointment.
He also revealed the commission had received claims relating to the involvement of certain political parties in gunrunning and incidents of violence.
However, these were not thought to fall within the commission's mandate and they had been referred to the ITU for further investigation.
Ntsebeza said the commission planned to have a non-governmental component in the unit and was looking at appointing human rights lawyers and investigative journalists alongside serving or retired police officers.
Twelve investigators would be stationed at each of the commission's four regional offices in East London, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.
They would investigate “dominant themes” of human rights abuses – such as train attacks, attacks on liberation movements and torture – and to verify claims made by victims and perpetrators.
Ntsebeza said there was an ongoing debate within the commission on the merits of handing over information it received to the attorney-general for prosecution purposes.
“I can see no reason why information made available by a victim and put to the alleged perpetrator cannot be sent to the A-G. However, information disclosed in an amnesty application would be kept confidential.”