Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

From Apartheid to Democracy: Deliberating Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

From Apartheid to Democracy: Deliberating Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa

Article excerpt

From Apartheid to Democracy: Deliberating Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa. By Katherine Elizabeth Mack. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014; pp. 156. $64.95 hardcover.

Katherine Mack's From Apartheid to Democracy joins the lively and important conversation about the role of argumentation, deliberation and decision-making in transitional justice. With a focus on South Africa, Mack draws from a variety of sources, including written testimony, fictional narratives, and photo documentary to support her analysis of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in that nation. Mack's background in comparative literature and English composition structures her critical approach, which highlights the political and social functions of speech and writing in transitional justice contexts.

Chapter one examines origins of the TRC, highlighting the extremely agonistic political context in South Africa that gave rise to the institution designed to enable a transition to post-apartheid democracy. Mack argues that the rhetorical dimensions of the South African TRC separate it from other TRCs because it utilizes "truth's inherent rhetoricity" in four areas: "forensic, social, narrative, and healing" (p. 26). In unpacking the rhetoricity of "truth," Mack explores the dynamic debates on punishment for previous apartheid injustices. For readers unfamiliar with the South African TRC, this chapter delivers a macro-level historical analysis that is helpful to understand the controversy.

The goal of chapter two is to explore how silence and speech are both generative and destructive forces for women who participate in TRC proceedings. Mack deploys a feminist socio-psychoanalytical approach to show the potential range of reactions to South African women's traumatic experiences during apartheid, especially the TRC's tendency to portray women as victims. To accomplish this, she juxtaposes two representative narratives. One narrative tells the story of Thandi Shezi whose experiences as a revolutionary were silenced by the linguistic prompts of the TRC. This prompted her testimony in a fashion that undermined her role as an actor. Mack juxtaposes this narrative with the narrative of a fictional character in Achmat Dangor's novel Bitter Fruit. In Dangor's telling, Lydia, the character in his novel, refuses to utilize the TRC's women's hearing, which she perceives to be filled with meaningless speech acts. The utilization of a real person and a fictional character serves as the centerpiece for Mack's "cross genre approach," which she suggests has unique potential to inspire imaginative thinking on TRC dynamics.

Chapter three considers how the TRC is designed to bridge the past with the "new morals" of the present. Here, Mack foregrounds issues of accountability, looking at how "perpetrators" in their TRC testimony justified carrying out violent actions against their "victims." One fascinating element to emerge in this analysis is how the TRC deliberations are structured to shift discourse from collective identity frames (e.g. "Black", "White", "Colored", and "Indian") to questions of individual accountability in the context of specific acts, such as Robert McBride's bombing of a white bar (pp. …

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