Between Nuremberg and Amnesia: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa
The conscious crafting of an honest history by a state commission is a rare enough event to justify our calling your attention to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But this writing of history is incomplete, in the same degree as the process of change in South Africa. Certain brute facts are ignored and avoided, and this avoidance was the condition of the bargain accepted by the ANG. As per South Africa’s Freedom Charter, now it can in some meaningful sense be said that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” But what belongs to whom is the question left unaddressed as the very condition of the transition negotiations, transferring its tension into all aspects of that transition, not least any permitted debate over present remedies for a history of injustice. The amnesty provisions of the Constitutional compromise are also the source of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As Beth Lyons asks, was amnesty too high a political price to pay to gain the possibility of a transition to majority rule while averting civil war? When considering this fascinating and hotly debated topic, do not forget the forbidden question that gives it force. Was placing the pre-existing structure of ownership and economic control beyond the bounds of permitted question too high a price to pay? The displacement of the (prohibited) second question into the (permitted) first question is the secret of the process on which we focus.