It is 20 years since the South African Truth and Reconciliation held its first hearing into the gross violation of human rights under apartheid.
The TRC was brought into being by an Act of Parliament in 1995 and was an essential component in the transition to democracy. It positioned itself between two extremes: the prosecutorial path of retributive justice evidenced in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders on the one hand, and the blanket amnesties handed out in the wake of the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet on the other. There, victims of gross human rights violations testified in secret.
In South Africa, on the other hand, all the hearings, both for victims of apartheid and of perpetrators, were in public. The names of victims of apartheid are recorded in one volume of the TRC report. It is a list that goes on for 50 pages in small print. More than 21,000 people gave statements to the TRC. Nearly 7,000 applied for amnesty, but few met the strict conditions laid down by the law: full disclosure, proportionality, and proof that the offence was politically motivated among them. In the end, fewer than 900 were granted amnesty.
For the first time, some of the grim stories of the suffering under apartheid were not only told but widely publicized.
For this series journalist, Pippa Green spoke to 13 of the former commissioners to find out how far we are as a country along the road of reconciliation today 20 years after the first hearing.
In this episode, TRC chair Alex Boraine speaks about his experience of the commission:
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 the 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?