The world regards my country, South Africa, as a model of reconciliation: Behold the miracle workers who have replaced racial strife, oppressive violence and apartheid with a proud national vision. People across the globe applaud us for our Truth and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1995 to encourage white and black to hold hands and sing hallelujah to our beloved country, to bring closure to the country's apartheid past, to expose the atrocities and human rights abuses committed by all political parties.
As a black South African, I don't believe that South Africa is a "rainbow nation." I don't think there has been true reconciliation either. And I don't accept the validity of the commission. Written into the 1993 Interim Constitution by the political parties that were negotiating the country's future, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was deemed necessary to a new South Africa. It was a pragmatic solution. If leaders from both sides of the apartheid struggle continued to regard each other as killers and enemies, the argument went, how would they become partners in a government of national unity?
The commission operates on various levels. It hears victims' testimony, determines financial reparation and grants amnesty to perpetrators. Its most controversial aspect, the granting of amnesty in exchange for full and truthful confession, has been a bitter pill to swallow. Applicants must prove that their crimes were political in nature and show adequate remorse. With its government-appointed members, the commission then can overturn sentences imposed previously by the courts and guarantee that individuals can never again be held accountable for their crimes. Those who don't cooperate can be, and are, prosecuted.
On a theoretical level, the commission makes sense. It was perceived to be the only solution for a country torn apart by repressive government control and racist policies that subjugated the majority of its people. We could not afford Nuremberg ... Read more