South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Final Report

By Maclean, Iain S. | Anglican Theological Review, Summer 2000 | Go to article overview

South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Final Report


Maclean, Iain S., Anglican Theological Review


South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Final Report. By the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 5 vols. Cape Town: Juta and Co., 1999. International editions by Macmillan, London for the United Kingdom and for the Americas, Grove Dictionaries, New York. $312.50 (cloth; includes CD-ROM).

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has gained much attention within and outside of South Africa-not because it was headed by Nobel Prize bearer Anglican Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, and not because its ongoing hearings were shown on national TV daily and posted on the World Wide Web. Rather it drew national and international attention because it seemed to bear with it much of the hopes for a better South African future, one "founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence" (Dullah Omar, Minister of Justice, quoted in preface to the Introduction, Report Vol. 1/4), and because it represented such a broad spectrum of a deeply-divided South African society. It drew the attention of politicians and social scientists because it so consciously sought to be inclusive, to hear from both perpetrators and victims, to establish responsibility, to investigate the truth and by so doing, to reconcile victims and perpetrators in order to establish a more just society.

Now comes the final published Report, originally submitted to the State President, Nelson Mandela, on October 29, 1998. The presentation of this report was the last of the TRC's four mandated objectives. The others were: first, to establish as complete a picture as possible of gross human rights violations between the years 1960 and 1994; second, to grant amnesty in exchange for complete and truthful disclosure of such violations; third, to ascertain victims' fates, and enable victims (or their survivors) to tell their stories and to restore their human dignity; and fourth, to arrange reparations.

The report is massive, in five volumes (also in CD format, included) totaling almost 3,000 pages. The first volume contains the Chairperson's foreword, a summary, and a presentation of the commission's mandate and method. The second and fifth volumes contain detailed reports of the human rights violations by the National Party government and by liberation movements. The third and fourth volumes set out the contexts in which these violations occurred and provide comprehensive, indeed verbatim accounts of the victims' (or their survivors) testimonies. According to the publishers, a sixth volume is forthcoming. This review will focus on the first volume which deals with the TRC's mandate, method, structure and methodology and on the fifth, which deals with the broader ethical, philosophical and religious principles that underlay that mandate.

The report was the result of a two-year investigation by the TRC into human rights abuses perpetrated by all parties in the South African struggle from March 1, 1960 (date of the Sharpeville massacre) until December 6, 1993 (when the Interim South African Constitution went into effect). The TRC itself was a creation of a compromise reached by the then-ruling National Party and its proposal for granting blanket amnesty for Apartheid-era crimes, with the African National Congress and other parties' request for instituting Nuremberg-style trials. In order to facilitate the negotiated transition of power, the compromise represented by the TEC was written into the Interim Constitution.

The Report carefully sets out its understandings of truth, reconciliation, national unity, and amnesty, and then proceeds to examine the "philosophical, religious and moral aspects" (Report Vol. 1/1, Sections 33-73). Reconciliation is considered and defined in seven statements that are dealt with in eighteen sections (Report Vol. 1/5, Sections 10-28) as well as in a whole chapter (Report Vol. 5/9). The concept of truth was understood as encompassing four notions (Report Vol. …

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