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 You are in: Special Report: 1998: 10/98: Truth and Reconciliation  
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EDITIONS
Truth and Reconciliation Friday, 30 October, 1998, 09:18 GMT
South Africans reconciled?
The BBC's Greg Barrow in South Africa asks whether the Truth Commission has succeeded in what it set out to do:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up to investigate political crimes during the apartheid era. Over more than two years, it has taken more than 20,000 statements from individual victims of human rights abuse, and received more than 7,000 applications for amnesty.

The aim of the commission and its chairman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was to promote reconciliation in South Africa's divided society through truth about its dark past.

One of the Truth commissioners, Dr Faizal Randera said: "If we cannot understand what made people think and do what they did these conflicts will arise again within our society."

In the turbulent final decade of South Africa's last white government, few sections of society were left untouched by violence.

De Klerk says sorry

Those at the centre of the conflict have been sought by the commission to explain their role in events that took the country to the brink of civil war.

candle
A candle was lit to mark the opening of the Commission
Very few political leaders have come forward to apologise for the sins of the past. But South Africa's last apartheid president, FW de Klerk, was one.

"I and many other leading figures in our party have already publicly apologised for the pain and suffering caused by former policies of the National Party. I reiterate these apologies," he told the commission.

But as the commission was preparing to publish its report, Mr de Klerk took court action to stop the report from implicating him in a series of bombings in the 1980s. He had been told the report would say he had evaded questions about whether he knew of plans to bomb the offices of organisations supporting the black liberation movement.

Apologies not enough

Many black South Africans have been left feeling that apologies are not enough.

Many are angry that the perpetrators of human rights abuse under South Africa's last white government can be granted amnesty if they make a full confession of their crimes.

It has been an unprecedented experiment in trying to heal the wounds of the apartheid era, but after more than two years of hearings and investigations some people are asking how much reconciliation has been achieved by exposure of dark truth from South Africa's dark past.

Mathatha Tsedu, the political editor of South Africa's most popular black newspaper, The Sowetan, said: "Black people are the sufferers here ... they saw the TRC as a mechanism to try to deal with that pain.

"White people have so much to hide about what they have been doing all along and they saw the TRC as some kind of witch hunt and therefore didn't go," he said.

The trauma of the past

Tutu
Archbishop Tutu: Driving force
Much of the criticism of the commission stems from a basic misunderstanding about its mandate.

It was never meant to punish people, just to expose their role in crimes committed under apartheid.

It is in this respect that the achievements of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission stand out.

Only by revisiting the trauma of the past can people look to a better future - but with the truth comes pain and a reminder that reconciliation may still be a distant goal in the new South Africa.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
BBC News
How one of apartheid's victims sees the commission: Greg Barrow reports
BBC News
Greg Barrow reports on the ever-present figure of Archbishop Desmond Tutu
BBC News
Martin Turner reports "The legal challenges have thrown a shadow over this process"
BBC News
BBC Correspondent Jane Standley: "The mothers have only God and each other for comfort"
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