Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Re-Professionalisation of the South African Armed Forces

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Role of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the Re-Professionalisation of the South African Armed Forces

Article excerpt

Dr (Col) Rocky Williams


The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process was initiated within a country in which all major institutions of state and society were undergoing a profound process of transformation. Key institutions affected by the findings of the TRC, and targeted for reform in its recommendations were the security forces in general and the armed forces in particular. Yet, despite its laudable intentions the armed forces were to remain largely distant from the deliberations of the TRC and, to date, unaffected by its recommendations and proceedings. This had to do with a complex of factors relating to the balance of power within the South African Department of Defence (DoD) during the post-election period; the timing of the TRC process in relationship to the integration process underway within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and the relatively early stabilisation of civil-military relations within South Africa which preceded the recommendations of the TRC. These factors have limited t he ability of the TRC to impact on the restructuring process within the armed forces -- a factor which has further been compounded by an apparent reluctance by the executive to pursue many of the key recommendations of the TRC in future. Notwithstanding these factors it is possible that the TRC can impact on the normative and cultural transformation of the armed forces, although this will require substantial levels of political and institutional will within and without the organisation.


This article proceeds from three sets of inter-related premises. The first premise is that Truth commissions cannot be seen as ends in themselves. Their utility in contributing to the re-professionalisation of the armed forces is strongly dependant on the extent to which democratisation initiatives of both a formal and informal nature are underway within the civil-military relations architecture of the country concerned (namely the creation of mechanisms of legislative and executive oversight; the institution of civic-education programmes; ensuring fiscal accountability programmes; ensuring receptivity to the demands of civil society, etc). Truth and reconciliation processes on their own have a limited ability to fundamentally alter or shift a country's civil-military relations in a democratic direction unless they are synchronised with these initiatives in their entirety.

The second premise is that it is desirable that truth and reconciliation processes should impact upon the re-professionalisation of the armed forces in post-conflict societies in general and in South Africa in particular. Two provisos underpin this assumption, however. The first is that the recommendations emerging from such processes should be predicated on those democratic principles and values that strive to ensure that the armed forces remain subordinate to elected government and respect the principle of military (and governmental) accountability to the civil power. The development of a new military professional ethos within the armed forces should, therefore, be consistent with the democratic features of the society it serves. That the TRC endeavoured to do this in relationship to the state in general and the armed forces in particular, is outlined in the following objectives and recommendations:

(to) make recommendations to the President with regard to the creation of institutions conducive to a stable and fair society and the institutional, administrative and legislative measures which should be taken or introduced in order to prevent the commission of violations of human rights. (1)

(T)hat government re-examine the reform and strengthening of state institutions in order to reinforce the protection of human rights ... (2)

The second is the salient fact that these processes need to be managed in such a manner that all major stakeholders (parliament, the executive and particularly the command echelons of the armed forces) and interest groups are involved in the process of reconstructing both the culture and the identity of the armed forces. …

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