The second week of September is always traumatic. It is during this time when the families of two fallen heroes of freedom must again face the pain of their loved ones lost – two men who died on the same day of the month.
On September 12, 1977, at the age of 30, Steven Bantu Biko, died in a prison cell in Pretoria, tortured to death.
On September 12, 1989, at the age of 37, Anton Lubowski, was assassinated at his family home.
Alongside the families a nation mourns their passing. In solidarity we remember their sacrifices and honour their contributions.
Even so, for the families, the wounds remain raw. To them, who relive the trauma, we offer our hearts in solidarity. We will remember; with you we will honour their memories.
However, strangely so, this week also saw an unexpected incident that deepened wounds. On Monday, João Rodrigues, the apartheid policeman charged with the murder of Struggle hero Ahmed Timol, died, at age 82, at home in Pretoria. Timol died in 1971 at the age of 30.
The pain the family faces is that Rodrigues died without disclosing precisely how it came about that Timol fell to his death while in police detention. Their tormentor would not face justice.
Similarly, those guilty of the assassination of Lubowski to this day were not charged with the murder, even while several appeared in court at the time. The family faces the reality that also in their case answers may never come.
Also, while a group of apartheid security agents, including apartheid police Colonel Gideon Nieuwoudt, at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission admitted to their role in the killing of Biko, the details of what transpired for many never were satisfactorily explained.
Where does a nation find resolution in such cases when questions of how its heroes lost their lives remain unanswered? One way to do so is not to let the search for answers go but to continue the project to uncover new information and evidence. To do so may, over time, complete the narrative of what transpired, which may give a family and a nation some measure of acceptance, if not peace, as much as offer the grounds for legal justice to follow.
Another way to find resolution is to return to the difficult process of reconciliation between perpetrators and the families of victims – a process that in the politics of the day and the harsh social and economic challenges the country faces, has taken a back seat in public discourse.
Reconciliation today seems a narrative less welcome in open debates of how a nation corrects the legacies of the past. However, when answers are not forthcoming and details remain hidden, reconciliation remains a distant prospect. Resolution also may be possible when a nation, amid the frustrations of incomplete storylines, dedicates its memory of fallen heroes to building the type of society they worked and died for – a mission that the families of Biko, Lubowski and Timol have taken up in different ways.
The distinctions drawn between different ways of finding resolution, however, represent forced distances. The search for answers, meaningful reconciliation, and reconstruction of a society in all its parts, together represent a more complete project for transformation and to build peace.
While the project threatens to become less of a priority as a young democracy contends with waves of immediate disputes, it is a project that may recapture our imagination of and hope for the future.
* Buys is executive dean of the non-profit higher education institution, Cornerstone Institute, and editor: African Journal of Non-Profit Higher Education, ISSN 2706-669X.