TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
SUBMISSIONS - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DATE: 22 MAY 1997 NAME: LETTER FROM RUDIE-LEE REAGAN
CASE: - ATHLONE
CHAIRPERSON: Sandra is the last of our witnesses, but as I promised this morning I am going to read a letter which we received from an 11 year old who does not agree with our decision not to allow children under 18 to give evidence and this is what she writes,
"To the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My name is Rudie-Lee Reagan, I am an 11 year old primary school pupil. I have heard about the Special Childrens' Hearing that will be held in Cape Town. I have also heard that children under the age of 18 cannot speak. I think this is very unfair and also stupid. Children over the age of 18 are not even children. I know that if a child was ten eight years ago they will be 18 now. The Truth Commission is violating the rights of children under the age of 18 so to speak. I do understand that the Truth Commission is trying to protect some children from having to go through all that pain and hurt again, but there are some children who would like to testify and see the perpetrators brought to justice. Children whose parents have been killed should be able to tell the Truth Commission how this has affected them. Speaking from a child's point of view, I think it would be very interesting to hear what children think should be done.
Last year was the first time I heard about a young boy. His name was Stompie Mokesi Siphe. He was 13 years old. He had an opinion, he fought for it and in doing so lost his life. He was against racism and wanted to be equal. That really made me think. He was so young, but at such a young age he knew what was right and what was wrong and he fought for what was right and people listened to what he had to say. He made a difference in our country and by listening to children with similar experiences could help us to do the same. For instance, dealing with sexism. Apartheid is now gone because of children like Stompie, but I have been trying to get into a soccer team for two years, but I have not been able to, because I am a girl. That makes me mad. Listening to children will help deal with issues like this.
The main point is, children should be able to talk about things that hurt us like sexual abuse and violence. It will also be interesting, because it is about our countries history and we are not learning about this in schools. What I am trying to bring out is that it is necessary for children to speak, because children have opinions and feelings too. From a very concerned 11 year old, Rudie Lee Reagan."
I am now going to hand over to Glenda Wildschut who really has been the mover and shaker behind the Childrens' Hearings who, perhaps, will talk a little bit about the opportunities that we are going to give children under the age of 18 years to speak about their experiences even if we had not done that today and Glenda will make the closing remarks which will end our three day hearing which has been ongoing since Tuesday.
MS WILDSCHUT: Thank you Wendy. I must just say that I chose the most difficult, the most uncomfortable place on the panel, because I am sitting between two tables and the chairs, the legs of the two tables are just where I need to put my legs. So I was trying to look dignified and yet being in a very uncomfortable position, but today has, for me, been a day of mixed feelings and mixed emotions. A day of relief, perhaps, that having been charged with the responsibility of organising this day that things managed to go off relatively well. Do you not agree, and also the feeling that one, let me tell you I feel.
I wish that we did not have to have a hearing on children and youth. I wish that we did not have to sit and listen to children who had to go through these horrific experiences. I wish that we did not have to record the pain, the grief, the depression, the sorrow, the mixed-upness and everything that children have experienced in our conflictual past, because we have to rather listen to the stories of children who are happy, children who feel protected, children who feel that adults can protect them and not abuse them. We should rather be listening to those kinds of stories. I wish today did not have to happen, but we have had a conflict and we have had a horrendous past and we have to place on record the experiences of those who have been traumatised through that past.
I think our objective today was not only to bringing the story of trauma and victimhood, but also to illustrate that we do have people who are survivors, young people and youth who have survived the most terrible experiences and, perhaps, some of them are even victors over those experiences. We had a time to celebrate, we listened to the beautiful voices of the school choirs today who celebrated the memory and the role that young people have played and who also, through, their song pledged their contribution to building a new nation and a nation that will celebrate everyone, especially the young and the vulnerable.
We felt that the Children and Youth Hearing will not be complete if we did not invite and engage with those who, perhaps, would never have been able to be part of or understand the experiences that have been relayed today and I do want to place on record my thanks to all of the schools who came today and sat it out, really, and who listened and who shared in the stories and also shared in the emotions. I kept scanning the audience during the day and noticed that some of you were deeply moved, deeply shaken by what had happened and I would appeal to the adults and the teachers to please ensure that you give the students an opportunity to talk through todays experience and to, at least, try and make sense of what they heard today, because I feel it is very important that at least in some way they process what had happened and I hope I am not using any phycological mumbo-jumbo, but that is really the message I would like to convey.
We feel that this is the start of a series of activities that will happen in respect of reconciliation and healing and nation building in this little part of the country. On the first of June is International Childrens' Day and on the 16th of June will by Youth Day and so between those two dates, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in conjunction with other organisations co-ordinated by the St Georges Cathedral Foundation, the Childrens Ubuntu Project there and the Religious Response Campaign to the Truth Commission will be facilitating a series of workshops with young people from the ages of ten and 11, 12 and 13, 14 and 15 and then the youth. It will culminate, those workshops, the series of workshops will culminate with a youth service which will be conducted in the St Georges Cathedral. That will be an interfaith, I emphasise, an interfaith youth service prepared, planned, organised and conducted by youth. Adults are not allowed to be on the stage or anywhere nearby, but they can be in the audience as Wendy quickly says, because I know she wants to be there. Yes, but adults, of course, will participate, but it will all be organised by young people and those will be a small attempt by the TRC and the other organisations to help to work towards ideas of reconciliation, healing and nation building.
Thank you very much for being with us today and for the other two days where we heard the story of the Trojan Horse and we hope that this hearing,in some small way, would have helped to facilitate the healing and moving on of those who testified and the thousands of those who did not have an opportunity to testify, but whose stories are reflected and represented by those who came forward today. Once again to the witnesses, thank you very much for coming and enriching our lives by telling us about your story.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Glenda. It remains for me to finally thank all the people who have made this hearing happen. I am not going to name names, because I am bound to forget someone, but to everyone who has contributed in any way, big or small, to these hearings I want to say a very, very warm thank you. I think people do not, often do not understand the huge amount of work that goes into preparing a hearing. All the backroom work, the pre-hearing work, the post-hearing work and I want to express my very sincere appreciation for all the staff and people who are not our staff, but who have still given of their time and dedication. I want to thank those of you who have attended, who have taken time out to sit through what is often a very difficult thing to do and finally to the witnesses. Hearings cannot happen without you. You are very special people, you are very brave to come and share your experiences and on behalf of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission I thank you from the bottom of my heart. Will the audience stand as the witnesses leave the room.