Khulumani Support Group

A South African victim-based civil society organisation

Claske Dijkema, October 2009

Khulumani Support Group (“Khulumani”) is a South African organization with its national headquarters located in Johannesburg. Khulumani means “Speak Out” in Zulu. The organization works to assist victims of apartheid-era violence and has 32,700 members who are survivors of such violence. Through victim empowerment and direct aid, Khulumani supports victims in their struggle for personal and community reconciliation, thereby restoring their dignity and integrating them into mainstream society.

Khulumani operates over 70 community-based chapters in all nine of South Africa’s provinces. Khulumani was established in 1995 by the survivors and families of the victims of the political violence that occurred during the apartheid era. Khulumani was founded when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Bill was being debated in parliament, in 1995. It wasn’t the consequence of the TRC and it wasn’t an instrument of NGO’s, it was community-based from the very beginning. For a few months, it was provided with a small office space at the back of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR) until Amnesty International in the Netherlands heard about Khulumani and gave the emerging organisation its first grant.

Its primary purpose was to ensure that the victims had the support they needed in order to speak out about their personal experiences with the human rights atrocities that were committed during the apartheid regime. Throughout the TRC process, Khulumani helped victims obtain and fill out applications and appeals, coordinated meetings with TRC officials, provided individual and group counselling for victims throughout their testimonies in order to utilize the official process of truth telling for survivors to reclaim their victimization and their dignity. In Marjorie Jobson’s words : “In this first period, the decision was made by the founding members that if we are going to engage with the TRC, we must try and reach as many people as we can to afford them the possibility also. We cannot have any people left out if this is going to be the only possible way of rebuilding their lives.” Khulumani also represented the victims before the government in order to give them a voice throughout the creation and implementation of the TRC.

Khulumani evolved over the years from reaching out to people to help them to engage with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to becoming focused on advocacy when it became evident that people in authority seemed to be reneging on their promises to victims and the organisation had to begin lobbying and advocating for reparations. This proved to be an even more difficult struggle because the Mbeki government had not been on the same page as the Mandela government in relation to the TRC. Marjorie Jobson explains this as allows: “Mbeki had spent the years of the struggle in exile. He seemed to believe that everyone had to close the door on the past and simply move on without addressing the consequences of what had been done to them. This was consistent with the prevailing message of the ANC in exile – that no-one should mourn their losses and that they should focus on mobilising for the future. This has had particularly harmful consequences for all the ordinary South Africans who suffered atrocities in South Africa from which they have not recovered. Mbeki seemed to turn his back on victims as if they did not exist. He dealt with the losses in his personal life in the same way – never appearing to mourn the disappearance of his only son, for example”.

In addition to working alongside the TRC process, Khulumani began to create innovative programs to broaden the victim’s personal reconciliation processes beyond the scope of the TRC. Once the TRC stopped taking statements in 1998, these programs became the main focus of Khulumani’s work and have continued to drive the organization. For example, Khulumani provides direct medical assistance to victims and their families, educational assistance to children, and equipment, such as wheelchairs, to injured victims. Khulumani’s counseling sessions give victims the opportunity to gain support and draw strength through shared experiences.