Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?

Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?

Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?

Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?

Synopsis

Graybill offers remarkable insights into the political origins, theological underpinnings, and major achievements of the world's most ambitious truth commission.

Excerpt

This project began in the summer of 1995 when I traveled to South Africa as a delegate with the World Affairs Council of Washington, D.C. Our group met with a variety of government, business, and civic leaders in an attempt to assess the success of the recent transition to democracy. We were struck by the goodwill, compassion, and magnanimity of black South Africans toward their former enemies. No one we met spoke of bitterness, vengeance, or hatred; expressions of a desire to move on, to forgive, and to build a united “rainbow nation” were typically heard.

Talk of a truth commission was just beginning to surface publicly. Although the concept of a truth commission was first articulated by Kader Asmal in his inaugural speech as the new chair of human rights law at the University of the Western Cape in 1992, it was not until 1994 that the debates began to surface in Parliament, nongovernmental organizations, and the media. The Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) held two major conferences that year that brought public attention to the need for a commission. The organizers of that conference (including Alex Boraine, who would go on to become the cochair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission [TRC]) hoped to learn from other countries’ experiences and adapt them to suit the particular circumstances of South Africa. As our World Affairs Council group was returning to the United States, the bill that would become the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act was being debated in Parliament. It was signed into law on July 19, 1995.

I came home excited about the novel experiment of reconciliation that South Africans were fashioning. When hearings began in earnest in the spring of 1996, I was fortunate to be selected for a National Endowment . . .

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