Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?

By Lyn S. Graybill | Go to book overview

1
Setting Up the TRC

The Precedents

Abundant examples of how other countries have chosen to deal with human rights abuses committed by former regimes can be found in the aftermath of the fall of the Nazi regime in the 1940s, and in the transition periods accompanying the waves of democratization in the 1970s (mainly Latin America) and in the late 1980s and early 1990s (mainly Eastern Europe). Besides the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals of the early post–World War II era, there were no fewer than fifteen truth commissions as of 1994.1 But these precedents offered warnings more than guidance for South Africa.2 Nuremberg, for instance, dispensed harsh retribution to the top echelon of Nazis but permitted ordinary Germans to live in a state of denial. In Chile and Argentina, the army and police made general confessions in exchange for blanket amnesties that allowed individual assassins and torturers to evade personal responsibility.3 All of these cases ignored the victims and made it possible for the truth about past atrocities to remain largely hidden.

Kader Asmal, minister for water affairs at the time the South African truth commission was being set up, played an influential role in the early thinking about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC): “There is no prototype that can be automatically used in South Africa. We will be guided, to a greater or lesser extent, by experiences elsewhere, notably in those countries that managed to handle this highly sensitive—even dangerous—process with success. But at the end of the day, what is most important is the nature of our particular settlement and how best we can consolidate the transition in South Africa.”4

From the beginning, South Africans sought to learn from past mistakes and develop a different kind of truth commission. At two major confer-

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Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa: Miracle or Model?
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa - Miracle or Model? iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • 1: Setting Up the Trc 1
  • 2: Nelson Mandela: Pragmatic Reconciler 11
  • 3: Tutu’s Theology of Reconciliation 25
  • 4: Forgiving the Unforgivable 39
  • 5: Amnesty: A Controversial Compromise 57
  • 6: Storytelling 81
  • 7: Women’s Testimony Before the Trc 97
  • 8: Innocent Bystanders? 113
  • 9: Media Hearings 125
  • 10: Wounded Healers: the Churches Respond 133
  • 11: The Rest of the Story 145
  • 12: A Workable Model? 163
  • 13: Afterword: Miracle or Evil Compromise? 177
  • Chronology 181
  • Glossary 187
  • Acronyms 189
  • Bibliography 193
  • Index 219
  • About the Book 231
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