The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa

On this day, 5th of December 2013, we grieve, since one of the greatest defenders of equal opportunities and freedom died. With Nelson Mandela’s death, it is also the end of an era in South Africa, that of the end of the Apartheid and of the beginning of the Rainbow Nation. All that we could write about Nelson Mandela, others have already written, more and better than us. We thus just pay a tribute to his memory, thank him for  all the good he did in the world and for being an inspiration for so many of us.

We also take the opportunity to talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a very important institutional body in the history of the post-Apartheid. This Commission, built up in the form of a court in 1995 by the South African governement, was intended to put an end to the grievances that were left amongst the South African society after 1994. Interestingly, the archbishop Desmond Tutu was nominated by Nelson Mandela to be its chairman. The Commission called people to express themselves on what human rights violations they had suffered during the Apartheid, and it tried to recover as much information as possible to what had occurred during that period. Nevertheless, contrary to a court (or tribunals such as the International Criminal Tribunals that exist in Rwanda or for the former Yugoslavia), it did not pursue those who had been “criminals” and had committed those violations. On the contrary, its purpose was to “reconcile” the society and learn from the mistakes of the past. In 1998 and 2003, the Commission issued several reports about the historic legacy of the Apartheid. Despite the fact that the Commission was often criticized for having ignored important aspects of the regime (such as ignoring those who had profited economically from it, and looking only to those that played an active role in it), or for not having been able to make the whole society cooperate, it was nevertheless a very important body for the history of South Africa. It will remain forever as an example of what peace and social mobilization can build up. Moreover, as it didn’t prosecute those who were “guilty”, it moved away from the conception of justice that had been present since the end of the World War II and the Nuremberg trials. However, some wonder if justice shouldn’t have been pushed forward, in order to appease the conflicts that still exist in the contemporary South African society.

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