Feature

History for the Future

It is 20 years since the first Truth and Reconciliation hearing took place...

The TRC was a unique political compromise forged during the years of negotiations between the liberation movements, civil society, the internal opposition and the apartheid government that led to the first democratic elections of 1994.

The TRC was created by an Act of Parliament – the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act number 34 of 1995. The Commission worked for just over three years, but several Commissioners stayed on to complete both the amnesty hearings and the seven -volume report which ran over several thousand pages. More than 21,000 victims of the conflict sparked and kindled by the apartheid system made statements to the Commission, and more than 7,000 people applied for amnesty. Of these fewer than 900 were granted amnesty, yet there have been relatively few prosecutions in the post-apartheid years.

It was a searing experience for many and a quintessential part of the transition.

The South African Truth Commission positioned itself between two extremes – the path of retributional prosecutions, exemplified by the Nuremberg trials in the wake of the Allied victory over the Nazis on the one hand; and the over –conciliatory process in Chile, where perpetrators of human -rights abuses under the Pinochet regime were granted blanket amnesty and where hearings were held in secret.

The South African hearings were public, and broadcast and reported widely. Perpetrators had to apply for amnesty and had to meet certain criteria: that the act was politically motivated; that it was proportional, and that there was full disclosure.

Most applicants failed to meet these criteria.

The Commissioners wrote several key recommendations in the report, designed, they say, to prevent South Africa ever going back to the country it was under apartheid. All of them say they are disheartened that the post-apartheid government has not taken the recommendations as seriously as it should have.

If it had done so, they say, our country would have been in a better place today than it is now.

In this series, History for the Future , 13 TRC commissioners look back at the experience of the TRC from the first human rights violation hearing 20 years ago until the conclusion of the report. They explore strengths of the TRC and its weaknesses.

They also reflect on where we are now as a nation, and answer the critical question: where to from here?

Listen to Pippa's interviews by clicking on the tracks below...

Click below to navigate articles relating to the different commissioners (these will be released on a weekly basis)...

Articles
TRC may have given people unrealistic expectations says former commissioner

TRC may have given people unrealistic expectations says former commissioner

Richard Lyster says the current state of moral decay and corruption epitomised in Jacob Zuma makes it hard to rebuild the country

Former TRC commissioner questions whether some should have received amnesty

Former TRC commissioner questions whether some should have received amnesty

Hlengiwe Mkhize says the criteria that gave amnesty to apartheid officials has not been fully understood by communities.

Afrikaner who broke ranks with Nats says PW should have been held to account

Afrikaner who broke ranks with Nats says PW should have been held to account

Wynand Malan became estranged from the National Party and eventually served as Vice-Chair on Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

TRC was safe space for apartheid victims to tell their stories - Judge Khampepe

TRC was safe space for apartheid victims to tell their stories - Judge Khampepe

Former TRC commissioner says post the TRC, the process of reconciliation is ongoing journey that South Africans need to commit to.

TRC commissioner Mary Burton praises radio and TV coverage of the hearings

TRC commissioner Mary Burton praises radio and TV coverage of the hearings

She says it is hard to keep the commission's work in memory, as the report is hard to access, and the film footage is expensive.

TRC commissioner Glenda Wildschut says country feels like it is in High Care

TRC commissioner Glenda Wildschut says country feels like it is in High Care

Human rights activist and former TRC commissioner, Glenda Wildschut, talks to journalist Pippa Green about the aftermath

Victims of apartheid feel they got a raw deal says TRC commissioner

Victims of apartheid feel they got a raw deal says TRC commissioner

Former TRC commissioner Rev. Bongani Finca says perpetrators had an easier time getting amnesty, while victims feel hard done by

Perpetrators had to take individual responsibility, says TRC commissioner

Perpetrators had to take individual responsibility, says TRC commissioner

Dr Fazel Randera the struggle doctor who worked tirelessly to save lives under apartheid went on to become a TRC Commissioner.

Dumisa Ntsebeza says the TRC may have promised more than it could deliver

Dumisa Ntsebeza says the TRC may have promised more than it could deliver

Former TRC Commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza headed up the TRC investigative unit and witness protection programme in the 1990s.