Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Ten years ago, on October 29th, 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented its report to President Nelson Mandela. This was followed by a final report in 2003.
There was (and remains) a great deal of confusion, anger and uncertainty about the TRC's report, and the way in which it was compiled. Those who were part of the structure of apartheid complain that it focused on their government, ignoring the equally vicious crimes of the so-called 'liberation movements'. Members of the latter, on the other hand, frequently didn't bother to appear before the TRC, claiming that their actions were part of a 'just war' and didn't need amnesty or explanation.
From my own perspective, I have to agree that the TRC seemed to focus far more on the evils of apartheid (which were evil enough by anyone's standards) and not nearly enough on the equally evil actions of the 'liberation movements'. This was a major factor in my decision to emigrate from South Africa. I'd offered to give testimony before the TRC in connection with a number of incidents to which I'd been a witness, involving both pro- and anti-apartheid forces. I was told, unambiguously, by two local officials of the TRC, that I was welcome to give evidence about (and against) the former: but if I mentioned the latter, I would be killed. Needless to say, this didn't seem particularly truthful or reconciliatory to me! However, not everyone would agree with my perspective. A contemporary article paints a rather more complimentary picture of the TRC's activities.
The TRC marked a new departure in international law, seeking to promote full disclosure of wrongdoing in exchange for amnesty and reconciliation. This was the opposite to the approach of the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, which sought to establish guilt and mete out punishment. The 1998 report of the TRC may be found here, and its 2003 final report here (both in PDF format, with long load times).
The South African TRC set the tone for many more such commissions in many other countries. Some have been more successful than others.
It's an important anniversary for me, because I remember the deaths of so many of my friends in South Africa. A number of them were discussed at TRC hearings, where those responsible confessed their actions. Sadly, that couldn't bring back the innocent persons who were murdered for no good reason - merely because members of the 'liberation movements' suspected that they were somehow opposed to their efforts.
May my dead friends rest in peace. The truth about their deaths may never come out . . . and they're beyond the need for reconciliation now.