We Still Have Need of Reconciliation and Justice

Cape Times (South Africa), May 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

We Still Have Need of Reconciliation and Justice


BYLINE: Desmond Tutu

It seems like yesterday that the doors of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission closed after handing its recommendations to the South African government. One can scarcely believe that 12 years have since passed and that the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, founded a year after the conclusion of the TRC, is celebrating its tenth anniversary this month.

This organisation, among others, has helped to ensure that reconciliation remains part of our national, but also continent-wide, dialogue. Today the IJR works with scores of partners in countries like the DRC, Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Zimbabwe and Kenya - and it has gained international recognition in doing so.

In 2008, the Institute was awarded Unesco's 2008 Prize for Peace Education - a prestigious international award given before to the likes of Paulo Freire, the Jewish-Arab Centre for Peace in Israel and Mother Theresa. We had never envisaged this level of impact to be attained so early on. Clearly, the Institute has potential to achieve significant further success over the next few years, not only in SA but further afield.

Collaboration between African countries on the issues of justice and reconciliation has become an increasingly important over the past decade. The aim is to create a community of African nations sharing ideas and assisting one another to build fair, democratic and inclusive societies.

It is heartening to see to what extent such collaboration continues to grow, not only through regional organisations such as the AU and SADC, but also between like-minded civil society organisations.

As Africans we need to keep talking about reconciliation, not to cover up the sins of the past and let dictators and their henchmen off the hook, but as a way to bring divided nations together, and to foster dialogue. Many African countries are looking for ways to foster this type of dialogue - the kind that enabled South Africans to negotiate a constitution and conduct a TRC, faults notwithstanding, as a basis for moving ahead.

Here at home, South Africans too need to keep talking about reconciliation, not to keep the divisions of the past alive, but so that our journey towards a rainbow nation can continue. Much remains to be done, both in terms of specific TRC recommendations, but also more broadly in terms of building an inclusive, tolerant and peaceful South Africa - that is at peace with itself, the continent and the world.

I am saddened that, after all this time, we are still waiting for an appropriate conclusion to the TRC process. The government's lacklustre response to many aspects of the Commission's recommendations remains a source of deep disappointment. Beneficiaries of apartheid have also failed in adequately acknowledging the generosity of their victims' forgiveness.

On both counts it was the victims, those brave men and women who came forward to tell their stories, who have lost out. What would it take for the Department of Justice to take proactive steps towards genuine consultation with South African citizens on how to handle the backlog of apartheid-era criminal cases, or unlock the as-yet untouched President's Fund with its almost R1 billion earmarked for reparations?

In cases where perpetrators failed to get amnesty from the TRC, or chose not to participate at all, the state needs to come up with solutions. We cannot simply let this go, because it would ridicule the amnesty that the TRC granted to those perpetrators who did participate.

On the other hand we also do not want to become mired in apartheid court cases for decades to come - this was precisely the scenario which the TRC was designed to help avoid. We need clear, workable and morally sound strategies, in line with TRC principles, to clear the backlog of apartheid-era cases and to pay outstanding reparations.

For this reason, it was entirely right that a coalition of like-minded NGOs, including the IJR and Khulumani among several others, recently opposed the Special Dispensation for Presidential Pardons - and won. …

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