Thursday, October 10, 2013

Photographs in an Antique Store

I've been tasked with reorganizing and modernizing the LRC library. Before I can do such work, I have to find the library under all the random (one indoor tennis table) and other miscellaneous materials that have come to rest in the library. In addition, hundreds of case files from the closure of one LRC office, the relocation of the LRC National Office last year, and the normal offloading whenever an attorney leaves the practice group have ended up in the library. I don't ask "why." I simply suggest that this material is too important to be haphazardly shelved on any available empty library shelf and attack the problem. Since we can't reorganize the library without getting the case files boxed and sent to storage, I spent the last few days organizing case files.

Although a quick read is all that is necessary to dispose of duplicate materials and confirm the file contents are where they should be, it is impossible to remain unaffected. These case files are unlike any that I ever encountered in my law practice. Reading the case files gave me a glimpse into the lives of just a few of the victims of apartheid and its residual effects.

In the last few days, I have read the stories of farm workers who have worked the land and grazed cattle for decades only to be evicted at the whim of the current or new owner; the stories of those who have suffered from acts of violence simply because of their race; and the stories of those who waited years for a Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearing to learn the fate of a loved one.

Personal affidavits of illegally displaced and evicted farm workers are powerful stories that detail their historical and generational ties to the land in order to establish a right to continue to stay on the land.Truth and Reconciliation Commission files include transcripts of the painful and horrific confessions of the aggressors and the relieved, pragmatic, and often soulful forgiving statements of the aggrieved. Some files reflect the frustration of the LRC attorney who is unable to obtain justice for his or her client. In the end, all the files contain ghosts of one kind or another.

Finally, the stories are encapsulated into organized files that are closed, stacked and waiting to be bundled into boxes.

Organized, closed, awaiting bundling.

Last they are bundled into boxes, labeled, and moved to a storage room filed with hundreds of identical boxes.

In one of these boxes is the story of a young black university lecturer who was brutally shot and killed by the police in 1995. The LRC represented his family in its quest to discover what really happened. In 2001, the family was finally informed that the Magistrate had ruled that the police were not liable and that there was no wrong doing. In the same file you will find an expression of frustration by the LRC attorney to the family for his inability to obtain justice for them.

There is a danger when stories move into folders and into boxes in a storage room. In boxes, the stories lose the ability to evoke emotions and inspire others to continue the fight for justice. They become those bins of black and white photographs in antique stores that we fingertip through but walk away from easily. Unfortunately, South Africa is in deep need of the inspiration and motivation of these stories. The Constitution of South Africa is less than 20 years old and everyone here admits there is still a very long way to go. Unfortunately, the current leadership seems more interested in building palatial mansions and engaging in other scandals, than in moving the country forward.

Many South Africans appear to have forgotten Nelson Mandela's words:

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried 
not to falter; I have made missteps along the way.
But I have discovered the secret that 
after climbing a great hill, one only finds 
that there are many more hills to climb.
I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view
of the glorious vista that surrounds me, 
to look back on the distance that I have come. 
But I can rest only for a moment, 
for with freedom come responsibilities, 
and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.

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