Wednesday 31 October 2018
Verne Harris: Director – Archive & Dialogue, Nelson Mandela Foundation
On 31 October 1998, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), handed the Commission’s Report to then President Nelson Mandela. The TRC’s amnesty process would only be concluded in 2003, but under Mandela’s leadership government departments were required to study the TRC recommendations with a view to implementing them.
Countries considering establishing truth commissions and other transitional justice mechanisms still send delegations to South Africa to study the case of the South African TRC. In many ways the Commission was exemplary. And yet after Mandela stepped down as president, work on the recommendations all but ceased.
What had been designed to be a springboard for continuing work in the areas of reparation, restitution, memorialisation, prosecution and transformation turned into something else. The underpinning reconciliation strategy began to unravel. And for many South Africans the TRC came to represent a betrayal. For an extended exploration of this line of enquiry, see a 2011 conference paper delivered by Foundation team members (below).
Twenty years on, it is important for South Africans to revisit the work of the TRC. What does that work signify today? Why has the state never responded formally to the report and why have most of the TRC recommendations been ignored? Where does South Africa stand in relation to reconciliation? Is it too late to revisit the recommendations? What would it take to complete the Commission’s unfinished business? Where does South Africa stand in relation to reconciliation? Is it too late to revisit the recommendations? What would it take to complete the Commission’s unfinished business?
On 4 October 2018, the Foundation partnered with the Hanns Seidel Foundation in convening a dialogue designed to explore these critical questions. The conversation was led by a panel comprising Dr Chandré Gould (author, researcher and former TRC investigator), Dr Noel Solani (historian and senior manager at Ditsong Museums of South Africa), Imtiaz Cajee (activist, public servant and member of the Timol family) and Sylvia Graham (former student leader during the #FeesMustFall and #AfrikaansMustFall campaigns).