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.