Limpho Hani is coping. For the moment that is all she will say.
But her voice, as taut and neat as her lime-toned suit, resonates
with an angry nervousness she won't express in words.
Five years ago, Chris Hani, the Communist Party leader whose
popular appeal nearly rivaled President Nelson Mandela's, was gunned
down in his driveway a year before South Africa's first democratic
Now the widow faces the possibility of another painful sacrifice -
this time, she is told, for her country's fragile future. For
several weeks she sat silently through public hearings as two
assassins described how they hoped to sow anarchy by killing her
husband, how one of them drank tea and went shopping to celebrate the
And now Ms. Hani and her husband's followers wait on tenterhooks
to see if, by the discomforting calculus of South Africa's experiment
in social healing, they will be asked to watch the killers go free -
to accommodate them as fellow citizens, perhaps even to forgive them.
"If Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis are given amnesty" for
killing Hani, says Charles Villa-Vicencio, TRC research director,
"the nation will have to sit down again and acknowledge the price it
chose to pay for peace and coexistence."
Healing the past
The Hani story is a crucial test case of the principles behind
South Africa's groundbreaking attempt to expunge its painful past.
But it is also just one of thousands. As part of its carefully
negotiated transition from apartheid to democracy earlier this
decade, the country established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission
to investigate gross human rights violations committed between March
1, 1960, a few weeks before police fatally shot 69 black protesters
in the township of Sharpeville, and May 10, 1994, when Mr. Mandela
was inaugurated as president.
The commission reflected a decision by South African leaders of
various backgrounds to expose the evils in their past - not as an
excuse for retribution - but in the theory that the truth would free
the country to create a just and equitable future. Instead of
launching full-scale witch hunts and demanding punishment for
atrocities committed by both sides, the decision sought to establish
post-apartheid South Africa on a moral foundation - one the country
could build on.
Unlike the 13-odd truth commissions that preceded it in other
countries, the TRC was vested with unprecedented powers to subpoena
perpetrators, grant amnesty in exchange for full disclosure of
politically motivated acts, and approve reparations for victims.
For two years the TRC has held hearings in plush-carpeted offices
and crowded township halls across the country. It gave victims an
opportunity to tell their stories for the first time. It held
special inquiries on the roles of the media, judiciary, medical
community, and business in perpetuating apartheid. Some 20,000
victims made submissions to the TRC, and 7,500 others applied for
Beyond all other provisions, the amnesty grant is the most
important. Perpetrators who make full disclosures of politically
motivated acts may gain immunity from prosecution.
TRC Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza argues that, beyond encouraging
the flow of facts about the apartheid era, amnesty requires
acknowledgment of wrongdoing, which is critical to the TRC's notion
of reconciliation: "Applicants testify in public. Such an exposure
is its own punishment, and thus an element of justice itself."
But for people like Hani, what serves the collective good often
strains the individual. Perpetrators are not required to show
remorse, and many have not. While they live with the consequences of
past abuses, the aggrieved are asked to accept their antagonists'
Given only two years to complete its work, the commission shut
down all but its research and amnesty work on Tuesday. In October,
it will issue a final report intended to present the fullest possible
picture of the apartheid era. …