Reconciliation in South Africa: Addressing Apartheid Era Human Rights Violations

By Everett, Michael | Strategic Forum, January 1999 | Go to article overview

Reconciliation in South Africa: Addressing Apartheid Era Human Rights Violations


Everett, Michael, Strategic Forum


Conclusions

* If the promotion of human rights as well as the establishment of democratic institutions and governments continue to be important U.S. goals, the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa deserves support, scrutiny, and continuous evaluation.

* Unlike the former Yugoslavia, South Africa is making the transition from oppression to democratic rule without outside intervention or the use of peacekeeping forces.

* President Nelson Mandela is the architect of reconciliation in South Africa, but the burden of truth is on all South Africans. A number of leaders of the past government and the anti-apartheid movement, as well as current government leaders, must reconcile with justice.

* Successful discussions between the United States and South Africa are indirectly tied to the success of the reconciliation process. Stability and growth could stimulate foreign investment and open markets in South Africa.

* The aim of the Truth and Reconciliation process was to develop a culture that places a high value on human rights to prevent recurrences of the injustices and suffering of the past. To succeed, social healing will require significant sacrifices and perseverance by former oppressors, perpetrators, and victims alike.

* With no significant external regional threat, internal security is the key to regional prosperity. The future success of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and economic prosperity in Southern Africa may be linked to security within South Africa.

From Apartheid to Democratic Reform

On July 26, 1995, the government of South Africa passed the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act. The Act was an attempt to complement the transition from a formerly oppressive apartheid system to a democratically functional government. In December 1995, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) started this program to explore, seek, and document information about past events that national and international tribunals are unable to capture.

The new South African government wanted to reconcile the past with the present and the future by addressing human rights violations. If South Africa is to remain viable and maintain its pre-eminence in the region, then social chaos and instability must be avoided. Although there are several problems associated with the transition from apartheid, human and emotional healing have to go hand-in-hand with other transitional activities in the country. The government considered several models for reconciliation before deciding to tailor the Chilean model to best suit South Africa. Radio and television became the primary media to spread information about the process. Brochures and leaflets were also used but proved to be less effective than the electronic media. The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act attempted to close out the books on apartheid by providing for:

...the investigation and the establishment of as complete a picture as possible of the nature, causes and extent of gross violations of human rights committed during the period from March 1, 1960 to the cut-off date contemplated in the Constitution, within or outside the Republic, emanating from the conflicts of the past, and the fate or whereabouts of the victims of such violations; the granting of amnesty to persons who make full disclosure of all the relevant facts relating to acts associated with a political objective committed in the course of the conflicts of the past during said period; affording victims an opportunity to relate the violations they suffered; the taking of measures aimed at the granting of reparation to, and the rehabilitation and the restoration of the human and civil dignity of, victims of violations of human rights; reporting to the Nation about such violations and victims; the making of recommendations aimed at the prevention of the commission of gross violations of human rights; and for the said purposes to provide for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a Committee on Human Rights Violations, a Committee on Amnesty, and a Committee on Reparation and Rehabilitation; and to confer certain powers on, assign certain functions to and impose certain duties upon that Commission and those Committees; and to provide for matters connected therewith. …

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