Academic journal article Borderlands

Memory Shards: A Site of Hope in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Academic journal article Borderlands

Memory Shards: A Site of Hope in Post-Apartheid South Africa

Article excerpt

There is no forgiveness without memory, certainly, but no forgiveness is reducible to an act of memory. To forgive is not to forget, above all not to forget. (Derrida 2002, p. 382)

These fragments I have shored against my ruins. (Eliot 1963, p. 69)


It is significant that Tutu's autobiography, No Future without Forgiveness, was published just over nine months after the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report. Principally concerned with the TRC and his experiences with the TRC (Brooks 2001, p. 401), Tutu articulates the rationale behind the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the Commission and elaborates on a number of the issues and themes central to the TRC Report, notably concerns to do with truth, memory, and reconciliation. From the outset, he stresses his dual ambition for South Africa: that the nation's people will be reconciled (1999, p. 5) and that this reconciliation would be facilitated through the recovery and articulation of the truth about the past. Tutu writes of his hope for a future where people work, 'black and white together' (1999, p. 8), to create a reconciled 'rainbow nation' (1999, p. 64). He contrasts this future hope with the reality of past atrocities committed during the Apartheid era and powerfully notes the impassioned pleas of some for greater knowledge about the shrouded past: 'We do want to forgive but we don't know whom to forgive' (1999, p. 149).

Tutu's premise is clear: national reconciliation relies on forgiveness (without which there is no future), and forgiveness turns on knowledge of the truth--knowledge that enables understanding and even empathy. Arguing for the relationship between truth and reconciliation--'forgiveness will follow confession and healing will happen, and so contribute to national unity and reconciliation' (Tutu 1999, p. 120)--Tutu writes of his hope that the TRC would 'establish the truth in relation to past events, as well as the motives and circumstances' (The Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act 1995, pp. 1995 Preamble, emphasis added). Through the promise of amnesty and reparations, the TRC's aim was to document 'as complete a picture as possible of the gross human rights violations that occurred in [South Africa] as a result of the political conflict of our past' (Tutu 1999, p. 79, emphasis added). (i) This more 'complete ... picture', to be captured in official documentation, would provide a new narrative-history for the nation. The aim is laudable, but highly problematic, of course. On what grounds could 'the truth' be established? (ii) And whose truth would it be? What of the truths of victims now dead or otherwise silenced? What might compel perpetrators of gross human rights violations to speak truthfully about their past actions? The answer to this last question, not without (continued) controversy, was the promise of amnesty for perpetrators of politically motivated crimes who told 'the truth'. The TRC thus embarked on a series of hearings in which perpetrators, victims, and survivors could 'tell their stories in their own words' (Tutu 1999, p. 26), for the purpose of national healing and reconciliation. Crucially, this approach opens the possibility of slippage between 'truth' and (personal) story through the act of telling, confession or testimony.

With the nation's future hanging on 'the truth' obtained by the TRC as the 'only ... basis' (Tutu 2011, p. 47) for reconciliation, significant questions arise regarding the ethics of remembering, forgiveness, condemning (instead of condoning), empathy, and, indeed, the very nature and possibility of remembered and articulated "truth" in the context of trauma and traumatic recollection. In evaluating the success of the TRC's venture and Tutu's philosophy, much rests on the troubled relationship between 'truth' and (testimonial or confessional) 'story'--two words which are at times used interchangeably in the multiple documents that issue from the TRC. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.