Who is Papi Tobias? He is a 47-year old man from Boiketlong. He is a father of three, a brother, a son. He is a heavily involved political activist who fought for the rights of his community and the South African people. Papi Tobias has disappeared.
Enforced disappearance is often thought of as a crime of the past, a crime of apartheid. We are told that South Africa is a democracy. South Africa is healing. Why then, are political activists still disappearing? The Boiketlong community has demanded proper service delivery for twenty two years. This informal settlement has fought long and hard for proper water, electricity, sanitation infrastructure, and most of all – housing. Papi Tobias was at the forefront of this fight. On February 6, 2016, Papi attended a community meeting where he expressed that he planned to blockade the roads in protest. A heated argument ensued, and other community members expressed their disapproval. But Papi refused to give up on what he knew the people deserved, and left the meeting still planning to carry out his protest. Papi disappeared that night.
Papi was last seen watching a football game at a local tavern. The next day, his friends contacted Papi’s family to explain that they believed he had been kidnapped. Despite an open investigation with the police, Papi’s whereabouts are still unknown. Enforced disappearance is recognized under international law as a crime against humanity, making it one of the most serious offences that could be committed against a human being. Thus, cases of enforced disappearance should be an utmost priority and investigated with diligence. Yet, no substantial progress has been made in Papi’s case.
Enforced disappearance is used to create terror and fear. This crime against humanity is used to silence contradictory political voices. In a country with such a devastating history of enforced disappearance, it is shocking that political activists are still disappearing. Now more than ever it is absolutely necessary that the South African government ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. In a Constitutional democracy there is no excuse not to have ratified a Convention which would protect the people from this terrible crime.
An average of 14 protests take place in South Africa every day. When political activists who engage in these protests are subjected to enforced disappearance, they are being deprived of the very first human right afforded to them in the Constitution – the right to life. South Africa has the opportunity to heal the pain of the past, to do things differently this time around. It is time to take that opportunity.