Assessing the Process  







     Assessing the Truth and Reconciliation Process 



“When a period of authoritarian rule or civil war ends, a state and its people stand at a crossroads.  What should be done with a recent history full of victims, perpetrators, secretly buried bodies, pervasive fear, and official denial?  Should this past be exhumed, preserved, acknowledged, apologized for?  How can a nation of enemies be reunited, former opponents reconciled, in the context of such a violent history and often bitter, festering wounds?  What should be done with the hundreds or thousands of perpetrators still walking free?  And how can a new government prevent such atrocities from being repeated in the future?  While individual survivors struggle to rebuild shattered lives, to ease the burning memory of torture suffered or massacres witnessed, society as a whole must find a way to move on, to recreate a livable space of national peace, build some form of reconciliation between former enemies, and secure these events in the past.” 

       “UnspeakableTruths,” Priscilla Hayner, 2001




South Africa’s answer to these questions was the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act out of which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was born.  What follows are some assessments of South Africa’s TRC process:


“[The TRC Report] ... is the most comprehensive and unsparing examination of a nation’s ugly past that any such commission has yet produced.  ... [It] has fulfilled its mandate of telling the fullest truth possible, which is one reason why every political party in South Africa has denounced it.  The controversy has added to widespread complaints that the Commission has not helped the process of reconciliation.  This is wrong.  True reconciliation which occurs when a society is no longer paralyzed by the past and people can work and live together, cannot be based on silence.”  

         Editorial: The New York Times, Nov.1, 1998.

“The South African TRC is the best known and by common agreement has played the largest part in helping a divided nation to come to terms with it’s past. ... It’s significance goes far beyond the borders of South Africa. is a factor in the thinking of people in many other countries about how to deal with questions of individual or collective responsibility for great crimes committed under the authority of their own governments.”

         Aryeh Neier, “Review of the Truth Commission of South Africa Report”
(Mr. Neier is President of the Open Society Institute)

“Reconciliation would take a long, long time and for our generation would never be total, but at least the foundations were being laid.  The findings of the TRC would outlive those of the ordinary courts of law, but the due process of law would outlive the TRC.”

        “The Soft Vengeance of a Freedom Fighter” Albie Sachs, 2000
(Mr. Sachs is a judge on South Africa’s Constitutional Court)

“What is the central core of South Africa’s attempt to come to terms with its past?  Essentially it is the holding in balance of the political realities of a country struggling through a negotiated transition and an ancient African philosophy which seeks unity and reconciliation rather than revenge and punishment.”  

        “A Country Unmasked” Alex Boraine, 2000

“Sometimes an official document can truly capture the essence of an era.  The report of South Africa’s TRC has done much to illustrate both the corrupting character of apartheid and the degree to which that evil served as an excuse for violence within as well as against the black majority.  ... The critics- black and white- have claimed that truth has been emphasized at the expense of reconciliation.  This argument cannot be sustained.  ... No committee can ever absolve the horrors of past atrocities.  They can point towards a more civilized future - and inthis case have done so.”  

        Editorial: The London Times, October 31,1998.

“Coming to a generally agreed understanding of the country’s history and its wrongs has been thoroughly won in South Africa - that is a form of reconciliation.”   “In South Africa today no one would tout the righteousness of apartheid; no one would deny that torture took place on a wide scale in South Africa’s police stations and jails.  Few would acknowledge they had openly supported apartheid.  This is also a measure of the TRC’s success and a measure of reconciliation"

          “Unspeakable Truths” Priscilla Hayner, 2001

“... our people are torn apart and fractured into contending factions by reason of racial and gender inequalities which continue to characterize our society.  ...  The full meaning of liberation will not be realized until our people are freed from oppression and the dehumanizeing legacy of deprivation we inherited from our past.”

         President Thabo Mbeki, Inaugural Address, June 16, 1999.




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