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 anangry nervousness she won't express in words.
Five years ago, Chris Hani, the Communist Party leader
whosepopular appeal nearly rivaled President Nelson Mandela's, was
gunned downin his driveway a year before South Africa's first
Now the widow faces the possibility of another painfulsacrifice -
this time, she is told, for her country's fragile future. Forseveral
weeks she sat silently through public hearings as two
assassinsdescribed how they hoped to sow anarchy by killing her
husband, how one ofthem drank tea and went shopping to celebrate the
And now Ms. Hani and her husband's followers wait ontenterhooks to
see if, by the discomforting calculus of South Africa'sexperiment in
social healing, they will be asked to watch the killers gofree - to
accommodate them as fellow citizens, perhaps even to forgive them.
"If Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis are given amnesty"
forkilling Hani, says Charles Villa-Vicencio, TRC research director,
"thenation will have to sit down again and acknowledge the price it
chose topay for peace and coexistence."
Healing the past
The Hani story is a crucial test case of the principles
behindSouth Africa's groundbreaking attempt to expunge its painful
past. But itis also just one of thousands. As part of its carefully
negotiatedtransition from apartheid to democracy earlier this decade,
the countryestablished a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to
investigate grosshuman rights violations committed between March 1,
1960, a few weeks beforepolice fatally shot 69 black protesters in
the township of Sharpeville, andMay 10, 1994, when Mr. Mandela was
inaugurated as president.
The commission reflected a decision by South African leaders
ofvarious backgrounds to expose the evils in their past - not as an
excusefor retribution - but in the theory that the truth would free
the countryto create a just and equitable future. Instead of
launching full-scalewitch hunts and demanding punishment for
atrocities committed by bothsides, the decision sought to establish
post-apartheid South Africa on amoral foundation - one the country
could build on.
Unlike the 13-odd truth commissions that preceded it in
othercountries, the TRC was vested with unprecedented powers to
subpoenaperpetrators, grant amnesty in exchange for full disclosure
of politicallymotivated acts, and approve reparations for victims.
For two years the TRC has held hearings in plush-carpetedoffices
and crowded township halls across the country. It gave victims
anopportunity to tell their stories for the first time. It held
specialinquiries on the roles of the media, judiciary, medical
community, andbusiness in perpetuating apartheid. Some 20,000
victims made submissions tothe TRC, and 7,500 others applied for
Beyond all other provisions, the amnesty grant is the
mostimportant. Perpetrators who make full disclosures of politically
motivatedacts may gain immunity from prosecution.
TRC Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza argues that, beyondencouraging
the flow of facts about the apartheid era, amnesty
requiresacknowledgment of wrongdoing, which is critical to the TRC's
notion ofreconciliation: "Applicants testify in public. Such
anexposure is its ownpunishment, and thus an element of justice
But for people like Hani, what serves the collective good
oftenstrains the individual. Perpetrators are not required to show
remorse, andmany have not. While they live with the consequences of
past abuses, theaggrieved are asked to accept their antagonists'
Given only two years to complete its work, the commission shutdown
all but its research and amnesty work on Tuesday. In October, it
willissue a final report intended to present the fullest possible
picture ofthe apartheid era. …