- This is about the South African body. For similar bodies in other countries, see Truth commission.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission
(TRC) was a court-like body assembled in South Africa
after the abolishment of apartheid
. Anyone who felt that he or she was a victim of its violence was invited to come forward and be heard. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty
The TRC, the first of the nineteen held internationally to stage public hearings, was seen by many as a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa. Despite some flaws, it is generally (although not universally) thought to have been successful.
Creation and mandate
The TRC was set up in terms of the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act
, No. 34 of 1995, and was based in Cape Town
. The mandate of the commission was to bear witness to, record and in some cases grant amnesty to the perpetrators of crimes relating to human rights violations, reparation and rehabilitation. The TRC had a number of high profile members: Archbishop Desmond Tutu
(chairman), Dr. Alex Boraine
(Deputy Chairman), Mary Burton
, Advocate Chris de Jager
, Bongani Finca
, Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela
, Sisi Khampepe
, Richard Lyster
, Wynand Malan
, Reverend Khoza Mgojo
, Hlengiwe Mkhize
, Dumisa Ntsebeza
(head of the Investigative Unit), Wendy Orr
, Advocate Denzil Potgieter
, Mapule Ramashala
, Dr. Faizel Randera
, Yasmin Sooka
and Glenda Wildschut
The work of the TRC was accomplished through three committees:
- The Human Rights Violations Committee investigated human rights abuses that occurred between 1960 and 1994.
- The Reparation and Rehabilitation Committee was charged with restoring victims' dignity and formulating proposals to assist with rehabilitation.
- The Amnesty Committee considered applications from individuals who applied for amnesty in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
Public hearings of the Human Rights Violations Committee and the Amnesty Committee were held at many venues around South Africa, including Cape Town (at the University of the Western Cape), Johannesburg (at the Central Methodist Mission), and Randburg (at the Rhema Bible Church).
The commission was empowered to grant amnesty to those who committed abuses during the apartheid era, as long as the crimes were politically motivated, proportionate, and there was full disclosure by the person seeking amnesty.
To avoid victor's justice, no side was exempt from appearing before the commission. The commission heard reports of human rights violations and considered amnesty applications from all sides, from the apartheid state to the liberation forces including the African National Congress.
5392 people were refused amnesty and 849 were granted amnesty, out of 7112 petitioners (there were a number of additional categories, such as withdrawn).
The commission brought forth many witnesses giving testimony about the secret and immoral acts committed by the Apartheid Government, the liberation forces including the ANC, and other forces for violence that many say would not have come out into the open otherwise.
On October 28, 1998 the Commission presented its report, which condemned both sides for committing atrocities.
The TRC sharply contrasted the Nuremberg Trials from WWII, and the subsequent prosecutions of former Nazis and Nazi sympathizers. Due to the perceived success of the reconciliatory approach in dealing with human-rights violations after political change either from internal or external factors, other countries have instituted similar commissions, though not always with the same scope or the allowance for charging those currently in power. The success of the "TRC method" versus the "Nuremberg method" of prosecution (as seen used in Iraq) is open for debate.
During April 1996 the South African national television corporation broadcast seven hours of the hearings live for the first week. The rest of the hearings were presented on television each Sunday from April 1996 to June 1998 in hour-long episodes of the "Truth Commission Special Report" by progressive Afrikaner journalist Max du Preez
, former editor of the Vrye Weekblad
The producers of the program included Anneliese Burgess, Jann Turner, Benedict Motau, Gael Reagon, Rene Schiebe and Bronwyn Nicholson, a production assistant.
Various films have been made about the commission:
Several plays have been produced about the TRC:
Some of Ingrid de Kok's poetry in Terrestrial Things (2002) deals with the TRC (e.g. The Archbishop Chairs the First Session, The Transcriber Speaks, The Sound Engineer).
A 1998 study by South Africa's Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation & the Khulumani Support Group,
which surveyed several hundred victims of human-rights abuse during the Apartheid era, found that most felt that the TRC had failed to achieve reconciliation between the black and white communities. Most believed that justice was a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and that the TRC had been weighted in favour of the perpetrators of abuse.
Another dilemma facing the TRC was how to do justice to the testimonials of those witnesses for whom translation was necessary. It was believed that, with the great discrepancy between the emotions of the witnesses and those translating them, much of the impact was lost in interlingual rendition. A briefly-tried solution was to have the translators mimic the witnesses' emotions, but this proved disastrous and was quickly scrapped.
While former president F.W. de Klerk appeared before the commission and reiterated his apology for the suffering caused by apartheid, many black South Africans were angered at amnesty being granted for human rights abuses committed by the apartheid government. The BBC described such criticisms as stemming from a "basic misunderstanding" about the TRC's mandate, which was to uncover the truth about past abuse, using amnesty as a mechanism, rather than to punish past crimes.
Among the highest-profile of these objections were the criticisms levelled by the family of prominent anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko, who was killed by the security police, and whose story was later featured in the film Cry Freedom. Biko's family described the TRC as a "vehicle for political expediency", which "robbed" them of their right to justice. The family opposed amnesty for his killers on these grounds and brought a legal action in South Africa's highest court, arguing that the TRC was unconstitutional.
On the other side of the spectrum, former apartheid State President P.W. Botha defied a subpoena to appear before the commission, calling it a "circus". His defiance resulted in a fine and suspended sentence, but these were overturned on appeal.
Playwright Jane Taylor, responsible for the acclaimed Ubu and the Truth Commission, found fault with the Commission's lopsided influence:
The TRC is unquestionably a monumental process, the consequences of which will take years to unravel. For all its pervasive weight, however, it infiltrates our culture asymmetrically, unevenly across multiple sectors. Its place in small rural communities, for example, when it establishes itself in a local church hall, and absorbs substantial numbers of the population, is very different from its situation in large urban centres, where its presence is marginalised by other social and economic activities.
- Bell,Terry, Dumisa Buhle Ntsebeza, and Dumisa Buhle Ntzebeza. 2003. "Unfinished Business: South Africa, Apartheid and Truth."
- Boraine, Alex. 2001. "A Country Unmasked: Inside South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
- Edelstein, Jillian. 2002. "Truth and Lies: Stories from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa."
- Gobodo-Madikizela, Pumla. 2006. "A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness."
- Hendricks, Fred. 2003. "Fault-Lines in South African Democracy: Continuing Crisis of Inequality and Injustice."
- Kentridge, William. "Director's Note". In Ubu and the Truth Commission, by Jane Taylor, viii-xv. Cape Town: University of Cape Town Press, 2007.
- Khoisan, Zenzile. 2001. Jakaranda Time: An Investigator's View of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- Krog, Antjie. 2000. "Country of My Skull: Guilt, Sorrow, and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa."
- Moon, Claire. 2008. "Narrating Political Reconciliation: South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission."
- Ross, Fiona. 2002. "Bearing Witness: Women and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa."
- Tutu, Desmond. 2000. "No Future Without Forgiveness."
- Villa-Vicencio, Charles and Wilhelm Verwoerd. 2005. "Looking Back, Reaching Forward: Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa."
- Wilson, Richard A. 2001. "The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa."