David Philips considers some Problematic Terms concerning The Truth & Reconciliation Commission (part 2):


When South Africa became a democracy in 1994, its new constitution was judged internationally as the most progressive in the world. Inscribed in this remarkable document was a commitment to ensuring reconciliation between the peoples of South Africa.

Historian David Philips followed the course of the TRC from its inception. In the second of a three part series for London Grip, he considers what was meant by “reconciliation” and whether it was achieved.

Reconciliation is a concept which has been much in vogue in the past decade and a half, as a way of dealing with transitional justice issues and resolving conflicts between settler and indigenous peoples in former colonies. [1] But that word ‘reconciliation’ – while a term easy to invoke and hard to disagree with – is a concept difficult to define.

The defining problem

The statutory mandate of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which actively heard testimonies for over three years, required it to pursue both ‘Truth’ and ‘Reconciliation’. It used the official slogan ‘Truth: the Road to Reconciliation’. The people involved had a fairly clear idea of what they were seeking in the form of the ‘truth’ about gross violations of human rights committed in the period between March 1960 and May 1994. But in the TRC material and the copious literature on it, you will find little in the way of clear definition of what they envisaged by ‘reconciliation’. There are at least two broad problems with the way in which it was used.

First, while the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘Reconciliation’ as the act of bringing a person “again into friendly relations to or with oneself or another after an estrangement”, in South Africa the different racial groups were never previously in friendly relations before suffering estrangement. The challenge was essentially to bring them into friendly relations for the first time – ‘conciliation’ rather than ‘reconciliation’.

Second, the desired outcome of ‘reconciliation’ is often loosely used to describe the process by which it is hoped to achieve that desired outcome. That process would be better described by an English equivalent of a word which the Germans coined, to describe their need to deal with their Nazi past – vergangenheitsbewältigung (confronting, or coming to terms with, the past).

The Constitution’s commitment

The new South Africa which set up the TRC, emerged from the first free and democratic elections in April 1994, held under the Interim Constitution negotiated between the parties in 1993; the ‘post-amble’ of that negotiated Constitution committed the incoming Parliament to legislate for amnesty and to pursue reconciliation:

“The pursuit of national unity, the well-being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between the people of South Africa and the reconstruction of society.

“The adoption of this Constitution lays the secure foundation for the people of South Africa to transcend the divisions and strife of the past, which generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles in violent conflicts and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge.

“These can now be addressed on the basis that there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu [2] but not for victimisation.”

The new Parliament passed the 1995 Act establishing the TRC, formally known as the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act. It contains a number of references to ‘reconciliation’, such as “that the pursuit of national unity, the well-being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between the people of South Africa” (Preamble); “The objectives of the Commission shall be to promote national unity and reconciliation in a spirit of understanding which transcends the conflicts and divisions of the past”(s.3), and “to facilitate reconciliation and redress for victims”(s.11); and there’s a reference to prisoners having their sentences remitted “for the sake of reconciliation and for the finding of peaceful solutions” before the TRC began (s.14).

But nowhere in the Act did it even attempt a definition of “reconciliation”. As outlined below, at least three different understandings of ‘reconciliation’ became evident. They divided first along lines determined by Archbishop Tutu’s Christianity, second, by the TRC’s apparent avoidance of any single documentary definition, and third, by the deeply political understanding of the term on the part of the victims of the crimes being brought before the TRC. [3]

The Christian Approach to Reconciliation

Probably the best-known approach to ‘reconciliation’ on the TRC has been the Christian one. This owes much to the fact that the Chair of the TRC, Desmond Tutu, had been an Anglican Archbishop; the Deputy-Chair, Alex Boraine, had been lay President of the Methodist Conference; two of the fifteen other Commissioners were ordained clergymen; and the Commission made much use of church people and local church organisations for their staff, research activities and public hearings.

‘Reconciliation’ has a long history of usage in Christian theology to describe the individual’s relationship to God and to Jesus Christ. Most of the Christian usage of the word in relation to the TRC makes little or no attempt to distinguish between this specifically Christian meaning of the word, and the word as used in the TRC Act and other materials relating to the TRC.

This is best exemplified by Tutu himself, who was quite uninhibited in his use of ‘reconciliation’ in its Christian sense as if it were the intended meaning of the statutory term. In the absence of a clear definition in the statute, he simply filled that gap with Christian assumptions. In his book on the TRC, Tutu wrote, “The President [Mandela] must have believed that our work would be profoundly spiritual. After all forgiveness, reconciliation and reparation were not the normal currency in political discourse. … Forgiveness, confession and reconciliation were far more at home in the religious sphere.” [4]

He wrote of the perpetrators with whom the TRC had to deal, that they, “remain children of God with the capacity to repent, to be able to change. If that were not true, we should, as a Commission, have had to shut up shop, since we were operating on the premise that people could change, could recognise and acknowledge the error of their ways and so experience contrition, or at the very least remorse, and would at some point be constrained to confess their dreadful conduct and ask for forgiveness. If, however, they were dismissed as being monsters then they could not by definition engage in a process that was so deeply personal as that of forgiveness and reconciliation.” [5]

And towards the end of the book, he stated, “To work for reconciliation is to want to realise God’s dream for humanity – when we will know that we are indeed members of one family, bound together in a delicate network of interdependence.” [6]

Amnesty and forgiveness

Significantly, Tutu entitled his book, not ‘No Future without Reconciliation’, but ‘No Future without Forgiveness’. The TRC Act provided amnesty for perpetrators who applied for amnesty for particular acts on the condition that those acts were deemed by the Amnesty Committee to meet the definition of a ‘political offence’, and that the perpetrators were judged by the Committee to have made full disclosure of their acts.

Most people accepted this provision as a necessary evil of the whole process. Agreement on amnesty was part of the negotiated settlement which ended apartheid and brought in a new constitution, and that it was also seen as a necessary incentive to get perpetrators of atrocities to put on the public record a full account of what they had done. Nothing in the TRC Act required such perpetrators to express contrition or remorse in order to get amnesty, nor obliged victims or their families to extend forgiveness to the perpetrators who had confessed.

However, Tutu announced on the opening day of the Human Rights Violations (HRV) hearings, “Forgiveness will follow confession and healing will happen, and so contribute to national unity and reconciliation.” [7] Throughout the TRC process and afterwards, Tutu insisted that the amnesty arrangement was a positive process in its own right, providing what he called ‘restorative justice’ (as opposed to the ‘retributive justice’ of prosecution of offenders), and that it was a concrete application of the African virtue ofubuntu.

Tutu frequently suggested – in the TRC Report, in his media statements, and in his book – that the normal procedure in the TRC was that “most [amnesty] applicants have expressed remorse and asked for forgiveness from their victims”, and that most victims “would be moved to respond to an apology by forgiving the culprit”. [8] In support of this, he cited two instances: the daughter of a Black activist, abducted and killed by Security Police, who wanted to discover her father’s killers in order to forgive them; and a White woman badly injured by a grenade attack by a Black liberation armed group, who also offered forgiveness.

Tutu often referred to these two instances as if they were the norm. [9] In fact, they were far from the norm; most perpetrators who went to the Amnesty Committee did not apologise or express contrition; and relatively few victims or their families expressed a willingness to forgive; many said plainly that they refused to forgive, and why they would not forgive.

But this did not stop Tutu continuing to make these claims, and doing his best to turn the public hearings of the HRV Committee – at which victims or their families testified publicly – into Christian rituals. [10] The first HRV hearings were held in East London in April 1996, and began with Tutu lighting a candle, prayers and hymn-singing. When the hearings moved to Johannesburg at the end of April, Dr Fazel Randera, a Commissioner of Indian ethnicity and not personally religious, asked that they be held in juridical, rather than religious, style. Instead of prayers, he suggested that the hearing begin with a half-minute of silence, to get people in the proper frame of mind for the hearing. Tutu agreed, and announced this at the start of the first Johannesburg hearing.

Piet Meiring, a theologian in the Dutch Reformed Church and a member of the HRV Committee who was close to Tutu, described what happened thereafter: “But Tutu was patently uncomfortable. He was unable to start with the proceedings. He shifted the papers on the table in front of him. He cleared his throat. When he spoke to the audience, he said: ‘No! This is not the way to do it. We cannot start without having prayed. Close your eyes!’ In his inimitable way, the Archbishop placed the hearing of the day in the Lord’s hands, asking that Jesus Christ, who himself is the Truth, guide us in our quest for truth, that the Holy spirit of God grant us the wisdom and grace we need. After a resounding ‘Amen’, he announced with a disarming smile: “So! Now we are ready to start the day’s work …’ Fazel and his colleagues equally gamely accepted the Archbishop’s instinct and ruling. From that day onwards all TRC hearings were to start – and be closed – in a proper fashion.” [11]

Meiring makes clear that this was far from accepted by the non-religious and non-Christians on the Commission; but the TRC, with Tutu giving the lead, simply continued to take such practices for granted. Tutu’s own justification of this was to invoke the church leaders who had contributed notably to the anti-apartheid struggle: “When they spoke about forgiveness and reconciliation, they had won their spurs and were listened to with respect”. He also wrote:

“Our experiment [the TRC] is going to succeed because God wants us to succeed, not for our glory and aggrandisement, but for the sake of God’s word. God wants to show that there is life after conflict and repression – that because of forgiveness, there is a future.” [12]

If one supports the TRC’s pursuit of both Truth and Reconciliation, but is neither Christian nor religious, it is difficult to identify with Tutu’s approach; it is hard not to feel that he restricted himself to a narrow view of what reconciliation was, and of what the TRC was supposed to achieve. One of the most acute critics of the TRC, Richard Wilson, has called this approach the ‘religious-redemptive’ paradigm. [13] He describes how some of the HRV hearings became “like a born-again Christian revivalist meeting”, complete with a man blinded after being shot by the police claiming, “It feels like I got my sight back by coming here and telling you the story.” [14]

Wilson also noted that, in the first six months of HRV hearings, the Commissioners specifically pressed those testifying to say whether or not they forgave the offender, and praised those who indicated that they harboured no feelings of revenge against the perpetrator. [15] People who worked for a victim support group, Khulumani (meaning “speak out” in Zulu), [16] tended to agree with this criticism. Tlhoki Mofokeng saw Tutu’s Christian approach as a “problem”, which led to pressure being put on victims to forgive. Criticising Tutu as being for “reconciliation at all cost”, he said, “I think Tutu could have used much more done, less hug and kiss.” [17] His fellow member of Khulumani, Thandi Shezi, was a little less critical: “You can forgive the Arch [Tutu] because he’s a man of God anyway. Forgiveness – it’s his part of Christian, yes … It’s his job, he gets paid for it.” [18]

“Reconciliation” as used by the TRC

The evidence suggests that during the nearly three years of the TRC’s existence, the Commission as a whole never had a clear idea of what was involved in the idea of ‘reconciliation’. Richard Wilson suggests that this may have been partly deliberate, owing to –

“a number of factors including the pragmatic realization on the part of Commissioners that if they defined a key objective, then they could be held accountable for not achieving it, and it was obvious to Commissioners that attempts at reconciling individuals would achieve only mixed results. In the context of a largely critical media, unleashing such a messy and unmanageable process would be leaving a hostage to fortune. In addition, reconciliation, like all central unifying metaphors, would function best as a kind of social glue when it was left indeterminate. Different groups with dissimilar agendas could then appeal to reconciliation to advance their own objectives.” [19]

A researcher for the TRC’s Investigation Unit, who ultimately resigned in frustration at the incoherence of their research policies [20] but retained a strong interest in reconciliation issues, told me in an interview that the Commission failed to define adequately their central concern of “reconciliation”:

“I don’t think they ever got their head around it. I think it was sort of almost assumed that it was going to be somewhere along the line a by-product of its other activities. I don’t think they grappled with it adequately, and I think realistically they said that at the end there was much more to be done on this and all the rest of it, but I think subsequent to the Commission there’s been a lot more important work around it. But the commission itself, it was a shame really that they didn’t come up with a more coherent response to this because it became a stick with which to beat it.” [21]

In interviews, individual Commissioners confirmed to me that they had indeed never really agreed on what they thought ‘reconciliation’ was. One commissioner, a human rights lawyer, felt that the Commissioners “all had very different understandings”: “For me, it was about a number of different issues. I think firstly, it is about finding in a sense a politically workable solution to allowing people to live side by side, and in a way which negates the need for violence. And with that goal, that it’s a process, it’s something we’re going to work on for many, many years from now. But part of that includes what I call accountability, an accounting in a sense of what had happened and in a sense of a national or historical version of events in terms of the past. I think with it must go an acknowledgement by those who were the main perpetrators that this actually happened; and then I think for some, it had to go hand in hand with access to the economy.… I think reconciliation must embrace the notion of some truth and accountability.” [22]

Another Commissioner to whom I spoke, a long-time activist in the women’s anti-apartheid and human rights organisation the Black Sash, also held that the Commission had no clear common idea of what it meant by reconciliation: “Well, I think maybe we ought to have spent some time together – some of us tried to make that happen – in working towards a common definition. For me – some people have said that reconciliation is going to be no more than learning to coexist in this society. I would hope that we may be able to achieve something better than that. My definition is that we ought to be able to stand in one another’s shoes and be able to understand what motivates the other person, not necessarily to agree that they are right, but to have sufficient understanding of what motivated or motivates him or her, so that it isn’t a complete talking past, walking past, misunderstanding of one another.” [23]

A third Commissioner, a doctor who had achieved some national fame by exposing the fact that District Surgeons were helping to cover up the signs of torture and physical injury which the security police were inflicting on detainees under apartheid, agreed that the Commissioners had never seriously tried to define reconciliation, nor what exactly it was that they were aiming at: “I think one of the problems with the TRC was that we never really sat down and said, ‘What do we really mean?’ You know, ‘How will we know whether we succeeded or not?’ I mean we kind of plunged headlong into years of statement taking and didn’t actually take time out to define it for ourselves. So we all kind of, you know, bumbled along with our own understandings of reconciliation which weren’t necessarily the same. For me, reconciliation was coming to terms with – being able to live with – being able to accept and move on from. So to take an experience or a time in one’s life or an event and work through it and say, ‘OK, it happened, but it is not going to continually drag me down, bring me back, you know, make me vengeful and revengeful and angry and so on. I’m now going to put it in a place which is going to allow me to progress.’”

She conceded that this was essentially a definition of reconciliation as an interior psychological process rather than to do with external relationships: “I certainly interpret it far more as reconciliation with yourself. Yes, I do think that the more popular view is, you know, let’s kiss and make up, kind of thing. And there were one or two famous incidents in which it happened at the TRC: ‘Yes, I’m now going to reconcile with the person who killed my husband’ or ‘I’m going to reconcile with the policeman who tortured me’. I think that’s – yes, that is a meaning of reconciliation. But I quite frankly thought the individual’s personal reconciliation and their ability to carry on with one’s life was more important because I think you can do that without necessarily having to, you know, say ‘I reconcile with the perpetrator’.” [24]

The former Director of Research for the TRC, and subsequently Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) in Cape Town, said to me that he initially had thought that the most one could hope for was “peaceful coexistence”, where people could just learn to live together. But as time went on, he began to think, “Reconciliation has a beginning, it is a process, and it has a goal. And the beginning is where we begin to explore the possibility of ‘What does it mean for you and I to learn to live together?’ …My neck-sticking out definition would be: reconciliation, political reconciliation – I’m not talking about individual, spiritual stuff – political reconciliation is a process of exploring ways of living together in peaceful coexistence.”

He felt that the TRC itself had never arrived at a working definition of reconciliation and that the criticism that the TRC was more interested in truth and justice than in reconciliation, was essentially true. He went on: “Well, as time went on, this was a truth and reconciliation commission. This was supposed to get us over the hump and allow us to learn to live together. Has it merely opened the wounds? Has it merely brought confrontation, demands for justice? To what extent have we also said: ‘Well, can we move on? How are we going to learn to live together?’ And in that context, the reconciliation chapter in the report [25] was written where it slings together a whole lot of examples of people who did reconcile. And, you know, I take the shoes off my feet for people who did that. I continue to marvel how some of those people did it. But we never, within that process – there are signs of it in that chapter – but we never in that process really grappled with what I keep referring to as a political definition of reconciliation as opposed to a personal or individual thing. A political sense of reconciliation which needn’t deal … with the deep spiritual things. Although they will keep haunting, they will keep raising their heads, in the end, I don’t think it matters whether you and I love one another, as long as we don’t kill one another.” [26]

‘Reconciliation’ for the victims of the crimes

There is a neat parable about reconciliation which Antjie Krog records as told to her by Father Mxolisi Mpambani: “Once there were two boys, Tom and Bernard. Tom lived right opposite Bernard. One day Tom stole Bernard’s bicycle and every day Bernard saw Tom cycling to school on it. After a year, Tom went up to Bernard, stretched out his hand, and said, ‘Let us reconcile and put the past behind us.’ Bernard looked at Tom’s hand. ‘And what about the bicycle?’ ‘No,’ said Tom, ‘I’m not talking about the bicycle – I’m talking about reconciliation.’” [27]

People representing the interests of victims showed greater awareness of the material injuries and needs of victims – as in this parable, and sometimes using very similar language or images. They tended to tie their ideas and definitions of reconciliation more closely to notions of justice and reparation, and could be somewhat more cynical about abstract ideas of forgiveness and blacks embracing whites.

Duma Khumalo, who had spent three years on Death Row under apartheid, [28] and went on to work for Khulumani, told the TRC: “Yes, you want me to forgive him, shake his hand and he’ll be going back to his home with eight-roomed house and a full chicken on his plate and I’ll be going back home without bread to eat and my kid up to school”.

Another Khulumani member, Tlhoki Mofokeng, told me: “Whites and Blacks are still as far apart as they were before the TRC. Blacks live in townships. Whites still control business. You can’t change the physical realities of apartheid just with a new constitution, election and hugging. It doesn’t work that way. … Whites are still rich; Blacks are still poor. Except for a small Black elite, which the government uses to justify that there’s reconciliation.”

He said that without adequate reparations paid to victims, there could be no genuine reconciliation. He felt that the TRC had missed opportunities to use to the full the substantial powers it had been given, because “they were emphasizing too much reconciliation at all costs.” [29]

His Khulumani colleague, Thandi Shezi, had been detained without trial and raped by four white policemen. She had found the courage to come forward to testify about the experience to the TRC and to encourage other women to do the same. [30] She concurred with her colleagues’ views that proper reconciliation and forgiveness could not be expected to come without some economic redistribution in a situation where most blacks remain poor and most whites rich. [31]

As she put it: “In my understanding, reconciliation should start within before you can even go out and say ‘I reconcile’. And the things that are being reconciled, for me it’s when the marriage has gone sour or the relationship has gone sour and now you want to reconcile and move forward; but in this situation I don’t see why should we reconcile with the animals who brutally murdered people; and if we are saying we are reconciling, we are reconciling who with who because some of the perpetrators didn’t come forward. Some even cook up stories to get amnesty, so many lies and untruths were told. So who is reconciling with who. I’ve dealt with my own reconciliation, I’ve reconciled with my past, I’ve reconciled with my experiences that has helped me to move forward. So that is why whenever I’m holding a meeting with the victims I told them that you don’t have to look for reconciliation to say that you’ll go and hug a white person and say that you are reconciling and maybe eating in the same table with a white person and say that is reconciliation, no. You’ve got to start to reconcile with what happened to you. …

“In yourself, you want to reconcile with it because you want to build. …. I’ve been raped and tortured; I still feel pain; I’ve got some complications out of the torture, but for me to live with that pain, I need my space as Thandi. And I have to reconcile with the pain to say, OK I cannot do without you because you are living in me but we have to find a common ground where we’ll meet – my past and me, to say these I can pick from my past. Like the stubbornness that’s what made me to survive and I’m still using my stubbornness even now to go forward. [To be able to live without] being dominated by your past. Because most of the people are being dominated by their past, that’s why you find people always said: ‘Can I have twenty rand to buy mielie-meal, I’m a victim?’. You know, that victim-victim thing. You have to reconcile and be able to live with your past and you’ll see you’ll move forward.” [32]

She also said that, in cases where there had been severe violence between rival groups within Black communities, what was needed was some form of communal reconciliation. Here, she was critical of the TRC for not offering these people any form of direct victim-offender mediation to facilitate this internal reconciliation. [33] This viewpoint – that the TRC should have made use of NGOs which had experience in facilitating victim-offender mediation to assist the victims to come to terms with their traumatic experiences and reconcile in some deeper way – was one also strongly advanced by people with experience of such mediation who worked for NGOs such as the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR), and at least one psychologist who had worked for the TRC. [34] But Thandi Shezi also stated her belief that the indispensable prerequisite for reconciliation was first getting the truth about what had happened to people; of victims’ families being able to have the bodies of their murdered loved ones exhumed from where they had been buried by their murderers. “They got the truth and that is making them to be able to reconcile. But you cannot reconcile without the truth.” [35]


Because of the importance of Desmond Tutu and other church people within the TRC, the Christian approach to reconciliation – the ‘religious-redemptive’ one – has tended to be the best-known and most fully publicised. But the views of other Commissioners, and of people who worked for the Commission, show that there was far from a single or clear view on the TRC on what reconciliation was or should be. Most of them seem to have felt that the best course for the TRC was to concentrate on trying to unearth the truth, in the hope that that might bring reconciliation in due course. Khulumani and other NGOs who have listened to, and helped to organise, the views of black victims of apartheid, take a fairly sceptical view. While certainly not rejecting entirely the concept of ‘reconciliation’, they tend to stress the real material needs of victims – for money, medical help and psychological counselling – as more relevant and pressing than artificially-manufactured scenes of blacks and whites embracing publicly.

Their overall view is that when some serious material reparations and economic redistribution take place, then genuine reconciliation might have a chance of developing gradually as a result. Or, a little more idealistically, as expressed by a black colleague of Antjie Krog, Mondli Shabalala, who reported the TRC with her for the SABC: “Reconciliation will only be possible when the dignity of black people has been restored and when whites become compassionate. Reconciliation and amnesty I don’t find important. That people are able to tell their stories – that’s the important thing.” [36]



[1] Examples would be: the Chilean ‘National Commission for Truth and Reconciliation’ (established March 1990, report presented to the public February 1991); the Australian Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (established 1991, wound up in 2001); the Canadian Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, whose Report (1997) states the need for reconciliation between “Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people” after “a great cleansing of the wounds of the past” (Final Report, vol. 1, chap. 1, s.4); and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (established 1995; reported 1998).

[2] Ubuntu is a word from the Nguni languages (such as Xhosa and Zulu), meaning, roughly, a ‘feeling of common humanity’.

[3] In addition to the published sources – TRC Report, accounts by participants in the TRC, secondary reports and analyses of the evidence – this paper draws for its evidence on a series of interviews conducted with some of the 17 Commissioners and TRC research staff, plus NGOs and others concerned with reconciliation issues.

[4] D. Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness (Rider, an imprint of Ebury Press, Random House: London, 1999), p. 71.

[5] Tutu, No Future, p. 74

[6] Tutu, No Future, p. 222

[7] In Tutu, No Future, p. 91. Some of Tutu’s strong supporters – e.g.Prof. Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela (Interview, University of Cape Town, 4 Dec. 2003) and Father Michael Lapsley (Interview, Institute for the Healing of Memory, Cape Town, 20 Nov. 2003) – vehemently denied, in interviews, that he had ever talked about forgiveness at the TRC hearings, and said that the record would show this; in fact, the record shows clearly that he did. Commissioner Wendy Orr explicitly confirmed this as her experience: “Yes, pressure was placed] particularly [on] victims who came to hearings. You know and we were the panel, and the archbishop in his purple dress and so on – saying: ‘And would you forgive the perpetrator?'” (Interview with Dr Wendy Orr, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, 11 Aug. 2003).

[8] Tutu, No Future, pp. 48, 219. See also Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa Report, 5 vols. (Juta & Co.: Cape Town, 1998) (hereafter TRC Report), vol. 1, chap. 1, Foreword by Tutu, paras 36, 49.

[9] Truth and Reconciliation Commission Interim Report (June 1996), chap. 1., ‘Message from the Chairperson’ (obtained from the TRC website: www.truth.org.za, Aug. 1998); Tutu, No Future, pp. 112-115.

[10] For some critical views on this, see: Alex Boraine, A Country Unmasked. Inside South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2000), pp.265-8; A. Krog, ‘The Truth and Reconciliation Commission – A National Ritual?’, Missionalia (Journal of the Southern African Missological Society), vol. 26, No. 1 (April 1998), pp. 5-16.

[11] Piet Meiring, ‘The baruti versus the lawyers: the role of religion in the TRC process’, in C. Villa-Vicencio & W. Verwoerd (ed.), Looking Back Reaching Forward. Reflections on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa (University of Cape Town Press: Cape Town, 2000), pp.123-131, at p.124. For a similar telling of this story, see also hisChronicle of the Truth Commission. A journey through the past and present – into the future of South Africa (Carpe Diem Books: Vanderbijlpark, 1999), p.30.

[12] Tutu, No Future, pp. 44, 71, 230.

[13] Richard Wilson, The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, 2001), pp.109-121.

[14] Wilson, The Politics, p.110. The blinded man who said that his testimony to the HRV Committee felt like getting his sight back, was Lucas ‘Baba’ Sikwepere – see TRC Report, vol. 5, chap. 9, paras.7-9; Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull. Guilt, Sorrow and the Limits of Forgiveness in the New South Africa (Times Books, Random House: New York,1999), pp. 42-3.

[15] Wilson, The Politics, pp. 119-120.

[16] Khulumani, set up in 1995, is the support group for apartheid victims, both those who did and did not put their experiences to the TRC.

[17] Interview with Tlhoki Mofokeng, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Fri. 1 Aug. 2003

[18] Interview with Thandi Shezi, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Wed. 3 Sept. 2003

[19] Wilson, The Politics, p.101.

[20] See his trenchant critique of the inadequacies of the TRC’s investigations, in Piers Pigou, ‘False Promises and Wasted Opportunities? Inside South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, in D. Posel & G. Simpson (eds.), Commissioning the Past. Understanding South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Witwatersrand University Press: Johannesburg, 2002), pp.37-65.

[21] Interview with Piers Pigou, Brixton, Johannesburg, Friday 15th August 2003.

[22] Interview with Yasmin Sooka, Pretoria, Wed. 6 Aug. 2003.

[23] Interview with Mary Burton, All-Africa House, University of Cape Town, Tues. 21 Oct. 2003.

[24] Interview with Dr Wendy Orr, University of Witwatersrand, 11Aug. 2003.

[25] TRC Report, vol. 5, chap. 9.

[26] Interview with Charles Villa-Vicencio, Institute for Justice & Reconciliation (IJR), Cape Town, 3 Nov. 2003.

[27] Father Mxolisi Mpambani, quoted in Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull, op cit, p.142.

[28] Duma Khumalo was sentenced to death as one of the ‘Sharpeville Six’, having been falsely accused and convicted of complicity in the killing of Councillor Dlamini in the township of Sharpeville, on 3 September 1984. See Mtutuzeli Matshoba ‘Nothing But the Truth. The Ordeal of Duma Khumalo’, in Posel & Simpson, Commissioning the Past, pp.131-144.

[29] Interview with Tlhoki Mofokeng, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Fri. 1 Aug. 2003.

[30] She was detained in solitary confinement under s.29 of the Internal Security Act, and not only tortured but also raped by four white policemen during that time. See Pamela Sethunya Dube ‘The Story of Thandi Shezi’, in Posel & Simpson, Commissioning the Past, pp.117-130.

[31] Interviews with Duma Khumalo and Thandi Shezi, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Wed. 3 Sept. 2003.

[32] Interview with Thandi Shezi, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Wed. 3 Sept. 2003

[33] Ibid. These were conflicts which cost thousands of lives in the early-1990s, within Black communities, between armed groups professing loyalty to the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) respectively. Her colleague Tlhoki Mofokeng agreed with this criticism, saying of the TRC’s attempts to deal with these conflicts: “both sides revealed certain things to me that convinced me that the TRC had failed. They revealed, one, that absolutely there’s no community reconciliation work. And when I asked them, ‘But TRC came and helped you’, they were saying, ‘For us, to be honest, that TRC was a circus, that came in town and left. That’s the expression they used.” (Interview with Tlhoki Mofokeng, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Fri. 1 Aug. 2003).

[34] CSVR workers who clearly expressed this view include: Polly Dewhirst, who worked with the TRC for a few months and now manages the Transition and Reconciliation programme for the CSVR (Interview, CSVR Johannesburg, Wed. 3 Sept. 2003); Carnita Ernest (Interview, CSVR Johannesburg, Wed. 6 Aug. 2003); Hugo van der Merwe (Interview, CSVR, Cape Town, Wed. 15 Oct. 2003). It was also briefly suggested by psychologist Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, who worked for the Human Rights Violation Committee of the TRC and is now Professor of Psychology at UCT (Interview, UCT, Thurs. 4 Dec. 2003).

[35] Interview with Thandi Shezi, Khulumani, Johannesburg, Wed. 3 Sept. 2003.

[36] Mondli Shabalala, SABC colleague, quoted in Krog, Country of My Skull, p.61.


Also see in London Grip:

David Philips on


The Freedom Charter


David Philips on the

TRC Part 1


TRC Part 3