Academic journal article Military Review

Amnesty, Reintegration, and Reconciliation: South Africa

Academic journal article Military Review

Amnesty, Reintegration, and Reconciliation: South Africa

Article excerpt

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HE GRANTING OF AMNESTY and the process of reconciliation and reintegration (collectively referred to as "AR2" in this series of articles) are typically post-conflict processes. However, potential belligerents may resort to using aspects of AR2 before armed conflict to avert more widespread bloodshed. Scholars often cite South Africa as a rare example of a nonviolent transition to conciliation between sharply divided elements within a country. (1) Since its transition to majority rule, South Africa has held three elections, including the peaceful transfer of power between Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. South Africa thus stands as an example of the efficacy of employing the principles of AR2.

During the transition from apartheid to majority rule in the 1990s, South Africa avoided civil war due to a combination of political compromises between the National Party and the African National Congress, the acquiescence of the military, and the need to relieve the war-related pressure on the South African economy. Economic pressures forced the ruling National Party to the negotiating table with its chief rivals in the African National Congress (ANC). The two parties negotiated a compromise through which South Africa became a majority-ruled state and individuals accused of committing politically motivated crimes prior to the transition were granted a full pardon. This compromise could not have been executed without the acquiescence of South Africa's security forces. Unlike in other cases of AR2, the South African military did not serve the "forcing function" of an armed reconciler but instead merely allowed the process to occur.

South Africa is thus a distinctly instructive case because South Africans used the process of AR2 to prevent a war rather than mitigate the effects of one after the fact. Amnesty in South Africa fell under a well-established legal process in which individuals were absolved of criminal or civil prosecution in return for a complete accounting of politically motivated crimes. The agency charged with adjudicating claims of amnesty, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), was designed to be the catalyst for South African reconciliation. The TRC completed its deliberations and delivered its final report in 2003.

The legal process of granting amnesty is now complete in South Africa. While certainly not all South Africans have reconciled with their former opponents, a majority feels some measure of reconciliation a decade after the transition to majority rule. South African reintegration, the process by which all elements of the South African population achieved representation, has occurred in the government and military but has yet to fully occur in the economic realm.

Background to the Conflict

Although not the sole cleavage in South African society, the state-sanctioned system of racial discrimination known as apartheid was the most divisive aspect of South Africa's polity. Laws that divided South Africa into separate spheres for blacks and whites date back as early as 1911. In 1912, educated black South Africans founded the South African Native National Congress, an organization dedicated to the peaceful opposition to segregationist laws. In 1923, its members renamed the organization the ANC. The ANC continued peaceful opposition to white minority rule until the early 1960s. In March 1960, South African security forces in the town of Sharpeville opened fire on an anti-apartheid demonstration and killed 69 protesters. (2) The following month the South African government banned the ANC and a similar organization, the Pan-African Congress, and declared a state of emergency.

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In 1961, in reaction to both the Sharpeville massacre and the South African government's departure from the British Commonwealth, the ANC formed its armed wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation"). …

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