Countries going through democratic
transition have to address how they will deal with the human rights
crimes committed during the authoritarian era. In the context of
amnesty for perpetrators, truth commissions have emerged as a standard
institution to document the violent past. Increasingly, claims are
made that truth commissions have beneficial psychological consequences;
that is, that they facilitate 'catharsis', or 'heal the nation',
or allow the nation to 'work through' a violent past. This article
draws upon trauma counseling experience and anthropological fieldwork
among survivors to challenge these claims in the context of the
South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It argues that
nations are not like individuals in that they do not have collective
psyches, that nation-building discourses on reconciliation often
subordinate individual needs, and that truth commissions and individual
processes of healing work on different time lines. Calls for reconciliation
from national leaders may demand too much psychologically from survivors,
and retribution may be just as effective as reconciliation at creating
Keywords: South Africa,
Truth and Reconciliation Commission, symbolic closure, memory
We are meant to be a part
of the process of the healing of our nation, of our people,
all of us, since every South African has to some extent or other
been traumatised. We are a wounded people...We all stand in
need of healing (Archbishop Desmond Tutu in his opening address
to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission on
December 16, 1995).
The South African Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (TRC)(1) has become the paradigmatic international model
of how to 'work through' a violent past and in so doing, to 'heal
the nation'. Increasingly it is being argued that countries which
have undergone large scale conflict such as Bosnia, Rwanda and Northern
Ireland need to set up similar truth commissions. A country-wide
process of revealing and confirming past wrongs is said to facilitate
a common and shared memory, and in so doing create a sense of unity
and reconciliation. By having this shared memory of the past, and
a common identity as a traumatised people, the country can, at least
ideally, move on to a future in which the same mistakes will not
Yet the idea of dealing with the
past through a national truth commission ascribes a collective identity
to a nation, and assumes that nations have psyches that experience
traumas in a similar way to individuals. This act of 'psychologising
the nation' mistakenly implies that the pursuit of national unity
is a unitary and coherent process, and that individual and national
processes of dealing with the past are largely concurrent and equivalent.
This chapter assesses the psychological
impact on victims of the nation-building discourse of truth commissions.
It asks, to what degree does a nation undergo a uniform and collective
truth-telling experience? What are the consequences for individual
subjectivities of asserting that nations have psyches or collective
consciences? This chapter argues that psychologizing the nation
can be an ideology for subordinating diverse individual needs to
the political expediency of national unity and reconciliation. Truth
commissions aim to construct memory as a unified, static and collective
object, not as a political practice, or as a struggle over
the representation of the past that will continue to be vigorously
contested after their existence.
The discussion draws attention
to a range of post-conflict societies (or those in some sort of
political transition) and explores the many divergences between
individual psychological processes and national processes of remembering
such as truth commissions. We conclude that the nation-building
discourse of truth commissions homogenize disparate individual memories
to create an official version, and in so doing they repress other
forms of psychological closure motivated by less ennobled (although
no less real) emotions of anger and vengeance. Claims to heal the
collective unconscious of the nation therefore mask how truth commissions
both lift an authoritarian regime of denial and public silence,
as well as create a new regime of forgetting which represses other
memories and forms of psychological closure.
JUXTAPOSING NATIONAL AND INDIVIDUAL
Nations do not have collective
psyches which can be healed, nor do whole nations suffer post-traumatic
stress disorder and to assert otherwise is to psychologize an abstract
entity which exists primarily in the minds of nation-building politicians.
Nevertheless, it is remarkable how widely accepted this nationalist
language is in the literature on truth commissions and post-Communist
truth-telling. It is almost as if because nationalist discourse
is contained within human rights talk, then it cannot be in any
way misguided or destructive. However, the mythology of nation-building
can have damaging consequences for individual survivors who are
seen as 'out of step' with a putative collective conscience.
Michael Ignatieff challenges the
notion of national psyches when he writes:
We tend to vest our nations
with conscience, identities and memories as if they were individuals.
It is problematic enough to vest an individual with a single identity:
our inner lives are like battlegrounds over which uneasy truces
reign; the identity of a nation is additionally fissured by region,
ethnicity, class and education [Ignatieff, 1998, p. 169].
Instead of reconstructing the
national psyche and healing the nation, Ignatieff argues that truth
commissions can only provide a frame for public discourse and public
memory. They can help to create a new public space in which debate
and discussion on the past occurs. Beyond this they can do little,
although they can be useful if they present the past as an irresolvable
argument that is to be continually debated. This is not wholly open-ended,
as they must also define the acceptable limits of the argument over
what happened to whom and reduce the range of permissible
historical revisionism. Within the context of public discourse,
the past is subject to infinite debate where memory is not a fixed
object, but the social practice that constitutes narratives on the
At the level of the subject, victims’
expectations and desires can converge with the efforts of national
truth commissions, which can legitimate the multiplicity of voices
that make up the national debate on the past. The legitimating function
of this new framing of history is important because during the authoritarian
era such narratives are regularly silenced and deformed by the media,
the courts and public institutions. Truth commissions and other
processes to establish new truths (for example, commissions of enquiry)
can create public spaces in which survivors can articulate their
individual narratives. Their voices are heard often for the first
time by a national audience, many of whom previously claimed they
did not know about the violent past. After the extensive media coverage
of a truth commission, the argument that atrocities did not occur
can never again be made – the range of licit truths (and lies) is,
in this way, irrevocably narrowed.
Yet if we look hard, we start
to see cracks appearing between the national and individual representation
of trauma, if only because there is a "truth that can be known
only by those on the inside" (Ignatieff, 1998, p. 175) and
that the truth itself is highly personalised. Michael Lapsley (1997,
p. 46), priest and facilitator of the Healing the Memory Workshops,
in South Africa, argues that "memory can be healed" by
individuals. To this end individuals need to talk about their
distinctive pasts, put their memories on the table, open them
up, clean them out and in so doing facilitate healing. Apart from
his rather outdated ‘suitcase’ metaphor of memory, Lapsley does
capture the uniqueness of individual acts of remembering, and the
need for a diversity of memory processes outside of national commissions.
The Healing the Memory Workshops
are independent of the South African TRC and provide a structured
forum in which individuals can constitute a new identity by gazing
upon the past in a highly personalised way. The South African TRC
in itself did provide some of these functions through its hearings
process, and was a psychologically healing process insofar as it
provided a space for memory work to occur. It was also useful in
that it created the context and new legitimate space for endeavours
such as Lapsley’s workshops. Nevertheless, recent history from Latin
America teaches us that the establishment of a truth commission
in itself is not enough to meet the psychological needs of individuals
– they may be necessary first steps toward individual psychological
healing but they are generally not sufficient in themselves (see
Survivors and the victims for
whom they grieve both inhabit a liminal space, which is both part
of society but removed from society; it could be called an experience
of ‘the living dead’. This space is characterised by uncertainty
and doubt, and is caused, according to Freud, by survivors’ experiences
of the uncanny. Survivors’ needs for closure and symbolic reintegration,
(that is, an end to a state of uncertainty and liminal status) may
work in different ways to those enshrined within national commissions.
Truth commissions can assert an over-simplistic view of what it
takes to move on from the past. Importantly, it should not be assumed
too easily, as the banners displayed by the TRC did, that "Revealing
is Healing" (Hamber, 1998, p. 83). Hayes writes, "Just
revealing, is not just healing. It depends on how we reveal, the
context of the revealing, and what it is that we are revealing"
(Hayes, 1998, p. 43). Thus, remembering, in itself, is not necessarily
a directly redemptive and liberating practice, and is only one of
many possible routes to symbolic closure for survivors. By 'closure'
we mean a situation where the trauma is no longer seen as unfinished
business, requiring, for instance a compulsion to take revenge.
Grief and loss no longer plague the individual consciously or unconsciously,
and the victim lives not in a state somewhere between denial and
obsession, where the loss is to a large degree accepted and incorporated
into the functioning of everyday life.
Furthermore commissions, since
they are often transitory and last at best only a few years, may
seek forms of closure which are only partial. Truth commissions
often operate on a time frame which is highly curtailed and limited,
and which requires a premature process of dealing with the past
from survivors of atrocities for whom the process of grieving often
lasts a lifetime. ‘Truth’ in the sense of speaking about the past
and having one's version recognised, is but one of the many possible
forms of closure for the individual. Processes aimed at closure
are also inherently contradictory in their nature. Reparations provided
through truth commission processes or after formal enquiries, for
example, can aid closure but can also be viewed as problematical
by some victims who may be uncomfortable with accepting what they
perceive as ‘blood money’. Arguably, revenge could also serve the
function of closure for the individual; a possibility wholly excluded
and deemed outside the acceptable range of discourse of the South
African TRC. Equally, revenge could also serve as a way of perpetuating
violence and in so doing trap the individual in the liminal space.
The rest of this chapter addresses
how truth commissions seek symbolic closure and how the limited
procedures adopted converge or diverge with survivors' individual
agendas. We will argue that truth commissions (and other projects
to rewrite the official version of the past) and individuals proceed
along different temporal continuums when dealing with violence and
trauma. This chapter shows how different processes embodied in individual
trauma work, national history-making, and reparations offered by
truth commissions. These interact and shape one another, and at
times are mutually reinforcing while at other times they are disharmonious
THE MEANING OF REPARATIONS
Another arena of societal
struggles over memory centres on the physical markers of past
violence and repression. Monuments and museums, plaques and
other markers are some of the ways in which governments as well
as social actors try to embody memories. Other social forces,
meanwhile, try to erase and transform these physical markers,
as if by changing the shape and function of a place one can
banish it from memory [Jelin, 1998, p. 26].
Reparations are one of the main
means by which truth commissions and similar processes seek to achieve
national and individual reconciliation, and they result in common
psychological consequences in each case. Psychologically speaking,
the so-called symbolic acts of reparation(3) such as reburials,
and material acts of reparation such as payments, serve the same
end. Both these forms of reparation can, although not necessarily,
play an important role in processes of opening space for bereavement,
addressing trauma and ritualising symbolic closure. They acknowledge
and recognise the individual’s suffering and place it within a new
officially sanctioned history of trauma. Symbolic representations
of the trauma, particularly if the symbols are personalised, can
concretise a traumatic event, and help re-attribute responsibility.
The latter stage is important because labelling responsibility can
appropriately redirect blame towards perpetrators and relieve the
moral ambiguity and guilt survivors often feel.
Reparations, symbolic or otherwise,
can serve as focal points in the grieving process, and this can
aid recovery by allowing individuals to focus exclusively on their
grief. Survivors often unconsciously turn to institutions such as
truth commissions, the criminal justice system or community/traditional
justice processes as a context in which they externalise their grief
and seek to come to terms with it. The symbols of public or collective
ritual, and material reparations in some instances, can mark the
point of moving onto a new phase and represent an individual’s mastery
over the past. On a macro level extensive social processes like
truth commissions can represent a new willingness by the state or
civil society institutions to exhume the buried issues of the past
through. This can occur metaphorically or literally, as when truth
commissions recover the hidden physical remains of the disappeared.
Unfortunately, no matter how well
meaning, all reparations strategies and governmental commissions
face the same, albeit obvious, intractable problem. Acknowledgement,
apology, recognition, material assistance, a perpetrator's confession
and even exhuming the bodies/bones of the ‘missing’ can never bring
back the dead or be guaranteed to converge with, and ameliorate,
all the levels of psychological pain suffered by a survivor. Memory
work revisits the past as an alienated tourist, and its attempts
at recovery are constantly undermined by both the fractured nature
of lived memory and the irrecoverability of time. The trauma and
accompanying senses of injustice, anger and hurt, which lie in the
depths of the actor’s psyche, are both immeasurable and ineffable.
Furthermore, recovery from trauma is obstructed by the unlikelihood
of justice in many societies in transition. This is typified by
the South African TRC’s amnesty process that grants indemnity from
civil and criminal proceedings to perpetrators who confess to political
crimes; and more dramatically where blanket amnesties have been
granted to perpetrators as occurred in Chile, Argentina, Brazil,
Guatemala and a number of African countries.
Thus reparation (and all action
undertaken by a truth commission) has ambivalent psychological consequences
for survivors – public acknowledgement of social truths and monetary
compensation are valuable contributions, but they can never wholly
meet all the psychological needs of the survivors as these are disparate,
inchoate and contradictory. The result is that in the aftermath
of large-scale political violence, we should expect to have to live
with the unsatisfied demands (for their own versions of truth, justice,
compensation, and so on) of survivors for a long time. Truth commissions,
with their focus on speaking about and writing a revised account
of the past, are at best only the beginning of a set of linked processes
which may lead to symbolic closure for some individuals.
LIMINALITY AND REINTEGRATION
To better understand the impact
of nation-state attempts at reconciliation through reparations,
truth commission reports and the like, we have to return and look
more closely at survivors’ experiences of trauma caused by political
violence. Trauma and violence shatter individual cognitive assumptions
about the self and the world. Severe forms of trauma shatter the
cognitive assumptions of personal invulnerability, viewing oneself
positively and that the world is a meaningful and comprehensible
place (Janoff-Bulman, 1985).
Trauma often results in confusion,
and an inability to fully understand the causes of one's suffering.
This ‘bafflement’ grows out of a negative encounter with the authoritarian
state which deforms rationality and foments personal and social
chaos and an attendant fragmenting of the self (Neal, 1998, p. 6).
As a result of trauma and a state-sponsored regime of denial, basic
questions are raised and remain unanswered, such as, how and why
did the event happen and what is going to happen next (ibid., p.
201)? The confusion and bafflement following a trauma, and the shattering
of cognitive assumptions about the world, are exacerbated when the
markers of the past that give it its coherence, such as the existence
and compassion of loved ones, are destroyed or rendered invisible.
This is particularly the case with regard to political disappearance
that thrusts an inordinate amount of unanswered (and technically
unanswerable) questions upon the survivor. The personal perplexity
and incoherence of the trauma is extreme in the case of political
Suarez-Orozco (1991) has written
about such issues with respect to Argentina, and he documents how
disappearances and the lack of bodies to be buried creates an ontological
uncertainty among survivors and a psychological experience of what
Freud termed the uncanny. This notion captures the common
difficulties experienced by survivors who must mourn without a corpse:
"The uncanny feeds on uncertainty (Is he/she alive? Is he/she
dead?)" (ibid., p. 491). As a result, in Argentina, mummification
took on epidemic proportions following disappearances, where the
bedrooms and offices of the disappeared were kept as they were at
the time of the disappearance, while the living waited for their
return (ibid., p. 490). Similarly, in Brazil some families even
refuse to move house in case their missing relatives finally come
home.(4) In Northern Ireland, some of the families of the disappeared(5)
have not cleaned out the rooms of their missing relatives - despite
the fact that the last political disappearance happened in the early
Both the survivor and the dead
inhabit a symbolically liminal social space. Both are part of society
but removed from society. This is captured in the words of a relative
of the disappeared in Northern Ireland, when he says, "We have
been left hanging in space. There are people who know exactly where
the disappeared are. Why doesn’t somebody tell us where they are?"(7)
In South Africa, survivors and the families of victims reiterate
the same haunting cry, "If they can just show us the bones
of my child, where did they leave the bones of my child?"(8)
The full horror of the liminal space is most poignantly captured
by Mathilde Mellibovsky in a book entitled A Circle of Love Around
Death, about the mothers of the disappeared in Argentina. She
I do not imagine hell as beds
with shackles where the condemned must lie, but rather as a
couple of easy chairs in which one can sit comfortably and wait
for the postman to bring news – which will never come [in Bronkhorst,
Experiences of the uncanny can
be exacerbated by the responses of government officials. Relatives
of those arrested or disappeared, particularly in Latin America,
Eastern Europe and South Africa, would search in local jails, police
stations, and morgues, but would often receive little information.
In many cases, relatives looking for the disappeared were given
a run around by authorities from one police station to another.
Authorities would deny any knowledge of their fate, and leave writs
of habeas corpus unanswered. As Malin (1994:197) writes of
the uncertainty generated in the Latin American context:
In denying knowledge or responsibility
for the disappearances, the state created a system in which their
victims seemed to have never existed at all. Habeus corpus
does not work for the simple reason that there is 'no corpus'.
No cuerpo. No body.
In South Africa, the police often
told families that their children had left the country to join the
liberation movement armed forces in exile. This was, in some cases,
true – but in others was a cover up for a security force disappearance
and murder. This left many families in an uncanny space in which
they believed (or at least hoped) that their loved ones were in
exile and would return once liberation was achieved. Joyce Mtimkulu,
who lived in hope for eight years that her son was in exile, captures
the uncertain feelings around this. She says:
The release of Mandela to
me was the loss of my son because he should have come back with
others…that hope that everybody is coming back home, the other
people got happy about that, but to us it was the moment of
tears because our son never came back [see Endnote 8].
In many cases in Latin America,
the security forces, in a Kafkaesque twist, would seize and destroy
all identification papers of their victim and then deny that they
had ever existed. Security police and the military intentionally
promoted the unreality of death by making the victim’s body vanish
and then wiping away any official record of the victim’s existence.(9)
This eradication of the identity of the victim would leave survivors
in a state of profound ontological insecurity.
Political disappearances around
the world appear to have different gender effects. Most commonly,
it is the female relatives of victims who are most vocal about being
forced into a liminal space along with their relatives. Ramphele
(1996) has analysed in detail how in South Africa widowhood places
women into a liminal phase and a state of ambiguity that is symbolically
marked. Political widows became the embodiment of social memory
about the fallen hero and social ambiguity is inscribed onto their
bodies during this state. In Sotho and Tswana communities, the body
of the widow is marked in ways which express a fear of ritual dangers:
her head is shaved, her body is smeared with charcoal and herbs,
her face is covered with a black veil (Pauw, 1990). Occasionally
a widow wears her clothes inside out, or only one shoe. She does
not eat off of everyday utensils and must stay out of the public
arena. Silence becomes a marker of liminal status.
Unfortunately, however, the reality
is that the material symbol (usually the body) that is necessary
for moving out of the liminal space is seldom recovered after large-scale
political violence. In these cases in South Africa, the truth commission
became the next best (or the least worst) option, as it attempted
to at least corroborate some information about what happened to
PUBLIC TESTIMONY AND SYMBOLIC
How does testifying at hearings
relate to feelings of the uncanny and liminality? Speaking at public
hearings like those of the South African TRC can break an enforced
silence and represent a point of closure and transition in the grieving
process, through interacting with the national symbolic process
of the TRC. The widow, in Ramphele’s sense, leaves behind her grieving
phase, shedding the symbols of her liminality. In its reparations
policy (which may include personal monetary reparation and symbolic
forms like tombstones or monuments), the TRC creates possibilities
for the internalisation of loss and Freud’s work of mourning (trauerarbeit)
that does not exist through legal channels.(10) Without a corpse
or a conviction it was often not possible to get compensation legally,
but through the TRC it was much easier to obtain a finding (recognition
of loss or suffering) and to obtain reparations (symbolic compensation
for the loss).
One case which demonstrates a
survivor’s experience of uncertainty and her quest to resolve liminality
through legal and TRC channels is that of Susan van der Merwe of
Potchefstroom, a teacher and mother of five. Susan van der Merwe
was married to a white farmer who went missing at Buffelsdrift,
at the border post between South Africa and Botswana on 1 November
1978. Susan van der Merwe reported at the TRC hearings in Klerksdorp
in September 1996 the same kinds of deep uncertainty as documented
by Suarez-Orozco for victims in Argentina, "my whole life was
then an uncertainty…and this uncertainty hung over us like a dark
cloud. It left such an immense, indescribable feeling of a vacuum
that you cannot explain it to anyone else. One’s life, your whole
life is incomplete".(11) The uncertainty surrounding her husband’s
disappearance was worse than knowing that he was dead and placed
the family in a liminal state. The two children at university were
‘deeply disturbed’ and failed their term exams. This state of liminality
was material and financial, as well as psychological. Since Susan
van der Merwe had no official evidence of her husband’s death, she
could not conduct financial transactions and she was not able to
secure loans to buy a house or pay for her children’s’ university
costs. She said:
At the beginning of 1979,
the two children wanted to go and reregister at the university
but the bank manager informed me that I did not have any security.
The circumstances were that I was completely dependent on my
husband. He ran on the financial matters…It never occurred to
me that because of the way in which my husband had died, that
if there were any funds available from him, that it would have
been taken away from me because we were not married in community
of property [see Endnote 11].
Prior to the TRC the case was
investigated by the security police and four years later, in 1982,
the Supreme Court established the events around the farmer’s disappearance.
Through the evidence of a police informer ‘Mr. X’, the court heard
how four umkhonto we sizwe (MK)(12) combatants had been walking
along the road to Thabazimbi, when van der Merwe stopped and offered
them a lift to the next town. Once in the car, the MK cadres pulled
out guns and forced the farmer to drive in the opposite direction
and they used his car to transport goods. They then walked Mr. Van
der Merwe out into the bush and executed him, and drove his car
to the border. One MK cadre led police to the scene, but the body
was never found.
For the family of the farmer,
the court case resolved only some of their questions. "After
these findings, the Supreme Court certified my husband as dead,
and this left my children in another vacuum of uncertainty. Why
was such a horrendous deed done to my husband which cost him his
life? For what purpose, what were they hoping to achieve by that
(see Endnote 11)?" Susan van der Merwe never got the answers
to those questions from her husbands' killers, yet, despite opposition
from her conservative white community on the West Rand, she explicitly
stated that speaking in public in itself was important to her. She
needed to present her story and wrestle with its inconsistencies
publicly and also to affirm her renunciation of a past of racialised
In the case of Susan van der Merwe,
and many others like it, we see how the pursuit of truth through
the courts and TRC became a way of addressing loss publicly. According
to Suarez-Orozco (1991), by pursuing their crusade for justice,
the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo(13) similarly internalised
their loss. Thus national institutional processes (such as truth
commissions and the justice system) are, at least in certain ways,
closely bound up with individual psychological processes. The TRC
in South Africa, at least to some degree, became a mode of psychological
repair, where denial could be superseded and both work of mourning
(transition out of uncertainty and liminality) and narrative fetishism
(teleologising and attaching transcendental meaning to loss) could
take place. Both are ways in which individuals reconstruct their
social identities through forging a meaningful and coherent narrative
in the wake of trauma. The TRC thus became a mechanism through which
ideological rationalisations for loss could be internalised. Suffering
became meaningful by associating it with the teleology of the liberation
struggle and the universal redemption of reconciliation.
In some instances even more minimal
forms of recognition by the TRC can be useful and move the individual
toward closure. Sandra Peake, co-ordinator of the WAVE Counselling
Centre in Belfast, says it is only over the last year, as the peace
process has moved forward, that some of the families of the disappeared
in Northern Ireland have started to clean out the rooms of their
missing relatives and get rid of their clothes. She feels that this
subtle change has come about because of the moves toward peace and
the recognition in 1995, and onwards, that there are in fact disappeared
persons in Northern Ireland (see Endnote 6).
However, based on our comparative
analysis of several countries, it is evident that for most people
more is needed than simple recognition and acknowledgement. The
body itself, and the process of grieving around it, is of significance
in most cultures. In Northern Ireland it is common for the families
of the disappeared to stress the importance of a ‘proper and decent
Christian burial’.(14) The rituals that take place around the bodily
remains aid closure and, without the body, closure seems all the
more improbable. In this regard, Sandra Peake points out the importance
of the Irish wake and the ritual significance of sitting up all
night with the corpse (see Endnote 6). If this is not possible because
the body is truly gone, she says, the only other strategy that can
bring some closure for the relatives is the revealing of the facts
about the disappearance and why the person was taken in the first
place. This stresses again that a truth recovery process (for example,
the South Africa TRC, a formal inquiry, and so on) remains the only,
albeit limited, hope for having some questions answered.(15)
REPARATIONS AND THE LIMINALITY
OF THE DEAD
In the absence of the body and
without information, as is the case in so many post-conflict societies,
can symbolic processes of closure take place? The projection of
liminality of the subject onto a reified image of the deceased in
South Africa provides unexpected answers to this question. In South
African townships, research has commonly found that survivors projected
their own liminality onto an image of those killed violently or
The case of Two-Bob Mpofu, although
not a political case, demonstrates the link between violent endings
and the liminal dead in South Africa. In this case, which received
national press coverage, the people of Msogwaba near Nelspruit in
South Africa were, according to reports, being haunted by a man
who was stabbed to death by his girlfriend in 1993. The ghost of
the deceased, Two-Bob Mpofu, was seen walking around the streets
and assaulting passers-by. One man, Thami Mlaba, reported that he
was kidnapped by the ghost, assaulted and dumped in the graveyard.
The dead man’s relatives were particularly prey to his vengeance.
The ghost attacked his sister, Nomajele Mpofu, in her home and chased
her out of the house. Even a local policeman, Vusi Magagula of the
Criminal Investigations Department, claimed to have been assaulted,
"I fired several shots at the ghost and emptied my gun, but
nothing happened. So I ran away".(17)
A similar phenomenon is also observed
in cases of political murder, such as the Sebokeng Night Vigil massacre
of 1991, which resulted from a fratricidal war between militarised
youth of the rival African National Congress (ANC) and Inkatha Freedom
Party (IFP). Margaret Nangalembe is the mother of the murdered ANC
comrade Christopher Nangalembe who was allegedly killed by his IFP
adversary (and former childhood friend) Victor Kheswa. Nangalembe's
night vigil was attacked, allegedly by members of Kheswa's heavily
armed gang, who threw hand grenades and fired into the crowd with
AK-47s. 42 mourners attending the vigil were killed.(18) At the
end of an author interview with Margaret Nangalembe, she
broke down and implored, "Why don’t people come around to my
house like before? They avoid it. They say that the dead are walking
around in this house, and in the garden."(19)
For Margaret Nangalembe, going
to the TRC, testifying in public and receiving reparations was an
inchoate attempt to symbolically lay the ghosts of the Sebokeng
Night Vigil Massacre to rest. Experiences of liminality demand symbolic
recognition, at some level, through public testimony, a memorial
or reparations. All reparations (including monetary compensation)
are like tombstones – a way of materialising the dead, a way of
shifting from the "liminal unknown to the liminal known"
(Ramphele, 1996, p. 111). Reparations are therefore a material representation
and fixation of memory work, a recognition of the experience of
liminality and its objectification in the external world.
Material reparations and compensation
serve the same psychological ends as symbolic acts. They are both
attempts to ritually create symbolic closure. Financial reparations
are often mistakenly viewed as, and spoken about by policy-makers
and victims alike, as form of concrete assistance that is different
(and certainly more substantial) than symbolic acts such as the
erection of tombstones or the naming of streets after the dead.
However, the reality is that seldom will the sums of money granted
ever equal the actual amount of money lost over the years when a
breadwinner is killed, and it is questionable whether the low levels
of material reparations offered will dramatically change the life
of the recipients. In the South Africa case, material reparation
is merely another form of symbolic reparation, albeit particularly
welcomed by the destitute survivors for whom any amount of money
When the living receive payment
for offences against the dead (and forsake revenge), this can, in
some cases, solidify and resolve the dead, who were previously seen
as wandering like undead ghosts. Reparations (and processes of remembering
and commemoration) stabilise the ghosts, they domesticate and tame
them by representing the compensation for their death.
Reparations seem to be one key
strategy survivors pursue in order to address their overwhelming
feelings of uncertainty. In his essay The Gift, Marcel Mauss
asserts that prestations are "total social movements"
that are at the same time economic, juridical, moral and psychological
phenomena, where "the law of things remains bound up with the
law of persons" (Mauss, 1988, p. 2). Material things transferred
between people are not inert but contain a spirit of obligation
and a part of the giver, that is, "to give something is to
give a part of oneself" (ibid., p. 10). The objects exchanged
are never completely separate from the people that exchange them
and the social context of the exchange, and thus the act of exchange
is replete with rights and duties.
Thus, objects are embedded in
a social grammar of loss, liminality, closure and responsibility.
To this end genuine reparation, and the process of healing, we assert,
does not occur through the delivery of the object (for example,
a pension, a monument and so on) but through the process that takes
place around the object.
Mauss is drawing our attention
to something very important in the transfer of material objects
between people, and that is how persons and things become symbolically
equalized and inter-exchangeable. There seems to be an unconscious
principle of the transmutability of people and things being played
out when the state gives reparations to families of the dead and
disappeared. Mauss’ discussion of the hau, or the "spirit
of the gift" is relevant here, where the hau of reparations
is compensation for the spirit of the deceased. The spirit of the
dead person and the spirit of the material reparations become exchanged
in the transaction between the state and the survivor. The state’s
obligation to pay reparations results from the duty to repay victims
for their sacrifice (in terms of suffering and loss) to the liberation
and the construction of the new political order. Victims gave the
gifts of their own spirits to ‘the community’ and the obligation
of the new state is to return the gift in the form of reparations
to their families.
THE DARKER SIDE OF CLOSURE
The unconscious associations around
reparations are not without their darker connotations, as Mauss
has recognised, "The gift is something that must be recognised
and that is, at the same time, dangerous to accept" (ibid.,
p. 58). Reparations place survivors in double-bind situations. Reparations
can constitute closure and the final acceptance of loss, but they
also can create difficulties for survivors. Some of the Madres
of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina are opposed to monetary
reparations, since to accept reparation is to acknowledge death(20).
This stands in sharp contrast to the constant rallying cry of the
Madres in Argentina, which is "those who were taken from
us alive should be returned to us alive." Accepting reparations
implies giving up hope that the disappeared would return alive.
Similarly, in Brazil, a process of naming streets after the missing
(and killed) under the Brazilian dictatorship (1964-1985) has been
greeted with ambivalent responses. Some families have been against
it because they believe that naming the street concretises the death
of their missing relatives. These families appear to still live
in hope (or denial) that their children will return and have therefore
refused to attend the inauguration of the streets named after their
loved ones (see Endnote 4). This refusal also links to feelings
of betrayal. Suarez-Orozco argues this is the case for the Madres
in Argentina, when he writes:
The Mothers argue that any
such bureaucratic intervention requires them to psychologically
become their children’s executioners: they would first need
to psychologically kill and bury their children before proceeding
with the legal route. And this is too costly, much too guilt
inducing. It is as if giving up hope is betraying their children
[Suarez-Orozco, 1991, p. 496].
Perhaps part of their refusal
may also involve wanting others to experience the frustration they
have felt. They are determined to offer constant reminders that,
in reality, there is nothing that can ever be done to replace their
missing loved ones. Yet part of the refusal also relates to the
way in which governments often seek closure on the past more readily
than individuals. For survivors, the state’s desire to build a new
post-conflict society often means sloughing off the past too easily,
and asking survivors to engage in a premature closure before all
the psychological processes around truth and recompense are fully
The Madres did not accept
the sacrifice of their children or husbands for the new civilian
order. They refused to be embodied symbols of the contrast between
the old repressive regime and the new benevolent political order.
This is read as a vehement rejection of the post-authoritarian regime.
This is one reason why government officials and the Argentinean
press came to vilify the Madres, who, over the years, have
changed from being the ‘Mothers of the Nation’ to Las Locas
or the ‘Crazy Little Old Ladies’ of the Plaza de Mayo. The
recalcitrant Madres were demonized as they no longer embodied
the state's vision of a reconciled nation. They persisted in remaining
ambiguous when politicians such as former Argentinian President
Carlos Menem demanded unity, certainty and closure to bolster a
post-authoritarian nation-building project.
Similarly, despite decades having
passed since the dictatorship in Brazil, the continuous
demands of the Comissão de Familiares de Mortos e Desaparecidos
Políticos (Commission for the Family Members of the Persons
Killed or Disappeared for Political Reasons) for the truth before
compensation, and their refusal to see the new law(21) as the final
stop, has made them unpopular. The government and even some previously
sympathetic members of society now refer to the group as ‘dinosaurs’
(Hamber, 1997). They, and the Madres, are seen as imprisoned
in the past, as hostages to their own memory and therefore obstructions
to the process of selective forgetting advocated by reconciling
national political leaders.
The rise and fall of social movements
such as the Madres indicates that drawing closure around
past violations is an inherently contradictory process that can
be expected to take decades. This is the lesson of the French obsession
with the war crimes trial of Maurice Papon in 1997, or the rejoicing
of many Chileans after the arrest of General Pinochet in a London
clinic in late October 1998. Clearly, how to address a history of
mass violations is not an issue that will simply be resolved by
a two-year truth commission, or when reparations are granted. Reparations
and symbolic acts are useful markers in the first stages of recognising
and dealing with formerly silenced memory. However, although reparations
may well be necessary (and a good starting point) on an individual
level, they will never be sufficient. Resolution depends on how
individuals personally engage in 'trauma work' at their own idiosyncratic
On a psychological level, for
a survivor to react in an overly forgiving way toward perpetrators,
or to simply 'let bygones be bygones' in the words of former South
African State President FW de Klerk, is highly improbable in the
short-term, and even over decades in some cases (Hamber, 1998, p.
68). The South African TRC has been a catalyst for successful resolution
of the past for some individuals.(22) However, by the time reparations
are granted (still outstanding at the time of writing), most survivors
will not have completed their trauma work and be willing to adhere
to nationally defined prerogatives of remembering and forgetting.
It is critical that victims are not expected, either implicitly
or explicitly, to forgive the perpetrators, or forget about the
past because some form of reparation (or a comprehensive report
on the nature and extent of past violations) has been made.
When reparations are granted before
the survivor is psychologically ready, any form of reparation can
be expected to leave the survivor feeling dissatisfied. When survivors
or families of victims disparagingly talk of reparations as a form
of blood money (as some do in Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Northern
Ireland), this is because the national process of 'reconciliation'
does not coincide with the individual psychological process. Reparations
and the truth about what happened must be linked, because without
this link any form of reparation runs the danger of being seen by
the survivors as a governmental strategy to close the chapter on
the past prematurely and leave the secrets of the past hidden. Reparations
without truth make survivors feel that reparations are being used
to buy their silence and put a stop to their continuing a quest
for truth and justice.
The long-term and individualised
nature of coming to terms with the past is captured by the words
of Joyce Mtimkulu, whose son went missing in Port Elizabeth, South
Africa in the 1990s. Through the TRC a version of the truth has
been revealed. The perpetrators have confessed that her son was
tortured, shot, his body burnt and his remains thrown into the Fish
River. Despite the emergence of a fairly coherent version of the
truth, inconsistencies still exist in the stories of the security
police killers, and Mtimkulu remains dissatisfied with what has
taken place. After testifying at the hearing and hearing the killers
confess, she says:
I have not forgiven them,
why must I forgive them when they don’t want to tell the truth,
and the beauty of this is that they are not asking for forgiveness
from us, the people who have lost their beloved ones. They are
asking forgiveness from the government, they did nothing to
the government, what they did, they did to us [see Endnote 8].
Ignatieff concludes in this case,
"Joyce speaks with words of anger, words of grief, truth is
not enough, the time for forgiveness has not yet come, the time
for reconciliation is in the future" (ibid.).
REVENGE AND PUNISHMENT AS FORMS
We are concerned that the
commissioners [of the South African TRC] are critical
of efforts to bring to book those who perpetrated crimes against
humanity. They think justice is of less value than their reconciliation
showbiz and avalanche of tears.(23)
To effectively deal with the impact
of large-scale political violence, we need to fully comprehend its
variegated impact on individuals. National politicians cannot expect
individuals to accept their agenda and time schedule for dealing
with the past. In particular, they cannot be expected to abandon
demands for justice as a form of redress necessary for ending liminality
in some cases. This was demonstrated during the Azanian People’s
Organisation (AZAPO) and the survivors’ families of high profile
murder cases (Biko, Mxenge and Ribeiro) constitutional challenge
in 1996. They challenged section 20(7) of the National Unity and
Reconciliation Act, which permitted the TRC to grant amnesty according
to certain criteria laid down in the Act. They contested the amnesty
provision because, if amnesty is granted, the survivors are denied
a right to criminal or civil action against the perpetrator.(24)
This constitutional challenge was dismissed by the Constitutional
Court in 1996(25), which finally laid aside victims’ demands for
legal retribution and prosecution for those who were granted amnesty
in South Africa.
Although the forgoing of formal
justice in South Africa may have been necessary to ensure peace,
this national process can run counter to the individual psychological
healing process and asks another sacrifice from the victims. This
is captured in the words of Archbishop Tutu when he says:
If the security forces had
thought that they were going to be up for the high jump we would
not have had a negotiated settlement, that is the price that
had to be paid, and yes, the victims and survivors are probably
asked a second time and to be willing – if this high price had
not been paid this country would have gone up in flames.(26)
Indeed the price for the survivors
has been high – but how do survivors, given the loss that they have
suffered, process this? At the time of significant loss most people
enter into a number of invisible pacts with themselves. Sometimes
this can be a vow to avenge the death of a loved one, either through
formal punishment or personal vengeance. This vow is made, not due
to sadistic pleasure, but rather as a way of respecting the person
who has died, to make their death and memory meaningful. Individuals
also often vow that nothing will ever replace what has been lost.
Revenge, or the infliction of
harm in response to perceived harm or injustice (see Stuckless and
Goranson, 1994, pp. 803-811), is, according to Michael Ignatieff,
commonly regarded as a low and unworthy emotion because its deep
moral hold on people is rarely understood (Ignatieff, 1998, p. 188).
Ignatieff recognises that revenge is a profound moral desire to
keep faith with the dead, to honour their memory by taking up their
cause where they left off. To this end, revenge keeps faith between
generations and the violence that follows is a ritual form of respect
for the community’s dead. For Ignatieff, therein lies the legitimacy
Nietzsche is one of the few philosophers
to have asserted the centrality of revenge in the pursuit of justice,
"The spirit of revenge: my friends, that up to now, has been
mankind’s chief concern: and where there was suffering, there was
always supposed to be punishment" (Nietzsche, 1969, p. 162).
Practically the whole of the rest of western philosophy and jurisprudence
has followed Kant and Hegel in denouncing revenge and distinguishing
rational law and justice from revenge. The South African TRC has,
in the interests of national reconciliation, muted feelings of vengeance
and replaced them with what it calls a more restorative model.(27)
As a result of national imperatives, survivors have generally felt
inhibited in expressing their legitimate rage and anger, and demanding
just retribution. Erich Fromm feels that vengeance (revenge) is
in some senses a magic act and, like punishment for a crime, it
can serve the function of magically expunging the perpetrators'
act (Fromm, 1984, p. 364). Fromm links vengeance directly to reparation;
vengeance is said to be a magical reparation. In this way, like
reparations, we contend that revenge and punishment (and perhaps
the fantasies thereof) can also be a way to lay the ghosts of the
violently killed to rest and end the liminal status of the victim
Furthermore, if the desire for
vengeance grips the survivor, then accepting paltry reparations
can also be experienced by the survivor as a disrespectful act that
betrays the loss they have endured or the memory of those killed.
In essence, rituals of respect (such as retribution through the
courts) and remembering can be broken by reparations, just as they
can in some cases serve as a symbol of mending.
The difficulties of coming to
terms with the aftermath of political trauma for the individual
have to be acknowledged. Coming to terms with the past can only
be eased by recognising as legitimate the multiple and contradictory
agendas which exist among a heterogeneous community of survivors.
The demands of some survivors for retributive justice need to be
seen as just as legitimate a path to 'reconciliation' as forgiveness.
Public and private space needs to be made to enable them to rework
their diverse memories of past conflicts and feelings of anger.
Contained, yet legitimate, revenge and punishment feelings are obviously
more desirable than acted-out fantasies.
A state-led process of substantial
and personalised symbolic, material and collective reparations also
needs to be set in motion. This did not occur in the South African
context, where reparations were very low on the list of priorities
of national politicians, and a compensation scheme for the majority
of victims had not been established at the time of writing, over
a year after the TRC's report was published. In January 2000, the
Mbeki government stated its intention to offer only token compensation
of a few hundred pounds (Rands 2000), instead of the £15000 which
the TRC recommended should be given to 22000 victims of apartheid.
Duma Khumalo spoke for many victims when he protested bitterly,
‘We have been betrayed. The previous government gave the killers
golden handshakes and the present government gave them amnesty.
[But] the victims have been left empty handed [‘Apartheid Victims
Reject Handouts’ Guardian. 3 January, 2000].’
CONCLUSION: WHERE DWELL THE
VAST HOSTS OF THE DEAD?
His soul had approached the
region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious
of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence.
His own identity was fading into a grey impalpable world: the
solid world itself which these dead had one time reared and
lived in was dissolving and dwindling (James Joyce in his short
story entitled The Dead).
The process of breaking a regime
of denial, addressing and recognising repressed memories, compensating
for loss, and ultimately arriving at some type of closure and reintegration
of liminal subjects, works at different levels, i.e. individuals,
truth commissions, and criminal prosecutions. There are different
motivations at these different levels, and they proceed at different
paces. There is not a single process of dealing with the past that
restores the 'national psyche' to good health. We have rejected
the idea of the collective as an extrapolation of the individual
as a myth of nation-building. Instead, we have drawn attention to
the disjunctures, as well as the convergences, between individual
responses and national institutions. National processes such as
truth commissions (although by no means the only process) can provide
a useful framework in which new rituals or spaces can be provided
for the enactment of closure.
Strategies such as truth commissions,
Fiona Ross argues, are performances of memory that create a framework
of explanation (Ross, 1997, p. 9). Ross (ibid., p. 10) quotes Jack
Kugelmas' formulation that memory is a process of both remembering
and forgetting. Facts need a narrative framework in order to be
rendered meaningful and take their place in a shared account of
the past. Where there is no accessible literature of destruction,
performance (rituals) are means to bridge what he calls the "fundamental
discontinuities of life". To this end, Ross argues that through
the South African TRC:
South Africa is currently
witnessing a process of shifting a new framework of description
and definition into place, creating, if not a cohesive narrative
of past pain, then at least the beginnings of a framework within
which moralities can be placed and debated...The framework is
contested. Indeed, that is the strength of the commission’s
process...It gives visible and tangible shape to the past, providing,
shall we say, a ritual context within which the past can be
examined and placed on record – at least in part [ibid.].
Governmental strategies like truth
commissions can create the public space for survivors to begin the
process of working through a violent and conflicted history. Of
course they are also not the only means. For any strategy for dealing
with the past to be successful, an ongoing space has to be provided
for survivors to express both their grief and their rage, as they
struggle to come to terms with the inherent ambivalences of the
psychological and emotional impact of their loss – a loss that reparation
and even the truth can only partially acknowledge. It is how the
individual processes the symbolic meaning of the ritual, the reparation
or a national process such as a truth commission, that is critical.
For this reason, making space for the legitimate complaints and
opposition of survivors should be seen as an integral component
of dealing with the past. These spaces can take the form of private
spaces (for example, counselling, culturally appropriate mechanisms
for story-telling and sharing, and so on) and the ongoing use of
public space (for example, media, exhibitions, theatre, and so on).
At a national level, this means
recognising publicly that the past is a site of struggle, not a
fixed object to which all members of the nation must identify. As
Antze and Lambek write, "Memory becomes a locus of struggle
over the boundary between the individual and the collective or between
distinct interest groups in which power becomes the operative factor"
(Antze and Lambek, 1996: xx). In this context, the analysis of trauma
work in post-conflict situations involves the charting of the dynamic
between national appropriations of memory and individual resistance
In addition, the calls for punishment
of perpetrators (even when this is not pragmatically possible),
or the impossible demands of survivors like those of the Madres,
need to be understood as rituals of closure in themselves. These
calls can re-establish the discontinuities in time for the survivor;
that is, they survived, their loved ones did not and will not ever
appear again. In post-conflict societies, angry calls for justice
and revenge persist until the process of trauma work and reintegration
is resolved. The rituals which national polities put into place
both hinder and promote individual psychological processes of recovery.
Recognizing the diversity of responses to suffering (including anger
and vengeance) ensures that the demanding and inherently ambivalent
psychological processes of grieving the dead are not wholly appropriated
by post-conflict societies using narrow Christian and human rights
discourses of reconciliation and nation-building.
Truth commissions do not heal
the nation, restore the collective psyche or categorically deal
with the past. Their value is much more limited and constrained,
and lies in creating a public space in which publicly telling subjective
truths, which are but one form of closure among many, may occur.
They may also cause further psychological trauma when individuals
(such as widows) are treated as the social embodiment of the nation,
and are expected to advance at the same pace as the state institutions
which are created in their name, but which are primarily pursuing
a national political agenda.
(1) Space does not permit a thorough
discussion of the nature, mandate and structure of the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. For more detail, see: Asmal, K., Asmal,
L. and Roberts, R. S., 1996; Burton, M., 1998; Hamber, B. and Kibble,
S., forthcoming; Simpson, G. and van Zyl, P., 1995; Wilson, R. 2000.
For the full mandate of the TRC, see the full text of the Promotion
of National Unity Act, No. 34 of 1995, at http://www.truth.org.za/legal/act9534.htm
(2) For a more detailed discussion
of the reparations issue in South Africa, see: Hamber, B., 1998:
Also see the TRC’s Reparation
and Rehabilitation Policy in the TRC Final Report,
Volume 5, Chapter 5.
(3) Within this chapter we use
the TRC’s definition of reparation, which can include measures in
the form of compensation, an ex gratia payment, restitution,
rehabilitation or recognition. To this end our notion of reparation
is very broad and not only includes monetary compensation but also
incorporates a range of other reparation strategies. These include
the need for symbolic reparations (for example, erecting headstones,
the building of memorials, and so on), legal and administrative
interventions (for example, expunging criminal records or the issuing
of declarations of death), as well as community reparations (such
as programmes for better access to health).
(4) Cecilia Coimbra from Grupo
Tortura Nunca Mais (Rio de Janeiro), Interview with Brandon
Hamber, December 1996, Rio de Janeiro. For a fuller discussion on
the families in Brazil, see: Hamber, B., 1997.
(5) There are more than 20 bodies
unaccounted for in Northern Ireland, most said to be Catholics killed
by the Republican groups and the (Provisional) Irish Republican
Army or the IRA. The IRA have acknowledged that 12 of the people
abducted and killed between 1972 and 1980 were activities committed
under its command. See The Irish Times, June 26, 1998, Front
(6) Sandra Peake, Co-ordinator
of the WAVE Counseling Centre, Interview with Brandon Hamber, 27
October, 1998, Belfast.
(7) William McKinney, The News
Letter, August 14, 1998, p. 2. William McKinney’s son, Brian,
disappeared in 1978 after being abducted by Republicans in West
(8) Joyce Mtimkulu, Interview
with Michael Ignatieff, "Getting Away with Murder", Special
Correspondent Programme, BBC2. Joyce Mtimkulu is the mother
of Siphiwo, who went missing in South Africa a decade and a half
(9) For a study of these events
in Argentina, see: Malin, A., 1994.
(10) For a discussion of Freud,
trauerarbeit and the history of the Holocaust, see Santner,
(11) Susan van der Merwe, Testimony
at the TRC hearings, Klerksdorp, 23 September, 1996.
(12) The military wing of the
African National Congress (ANC).
(13) The Madres emerged
as an important democratising social movement during Argentina’s
military dictatorship of the late 1980s. These mothers of the disappeared
began by marching around the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires,
demanding the return of their sons and daughters taken by the military’s
(14) See comments by the families
of the disappeared in the Irish Times, August 31, 1998, p.
6; The News Letter, August 14, 1998, p. 6; the Irish
Times, June 26, 1998, Front Page; and the statement issued
on behalf of the relatives of the disappeared on September 7, 1998.
(15) For a discussion on the importance
of truth in the Northern Ireland context, see: Hamber, B., 1998
and Rolston, B. 1996.
(16) This was confirmed by interviews
conducted by Richard Wilson in the Vaal townships of Sebokeng, Sharpeville
and Boipatong, from 1996 to 1998.
(17) "Stabbed man’s ghost
haunts our village", report Eric Mashaba and Sylvester Lukhele,
Sunday Times, 29 September, 1993.
(18) Newspaper reports are inconclusive
on the exact number of people killed in the incident, reports ranging
from 39 to 46 fatalities. 42 is the figure used by the Nangalembe
family and is therefore the number used in this chapter.
(19) Margaret Nangalembe, Interview
with Richard Wilson, 29 November 1996, Sebokeng, South Africa.
(20) In Argentina two main groups
exist. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo reject all government
attempts to investigate the truth and only want justice. This group
split with the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – Linea Fundadora
in 1986. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo – Linea Fundadora,
despite initially being against all investigations and truth recovery
processes, now work with the government in investigating disappearances
(for example, exhumations) and accept the reparations offered. See
Hamber, B., 1997.
(21) The issue of compensation
has only recently been thrust into main focus when the government
agreed in 1995 to compensate the families of the murdered and ‘disappeared’,
in some cases two decades after the ‘disappearances’. The bill was
approved by the Brazilian Congress in September 1995. 136 names
of disappeared persons were officially acknowledged by the government.
The number of those considered dead or disappeared is still contested
by some of the families of victims in Brazil. The onus is however
on the families to prove the government was responsible. The group
sees this as the government’s final attempt to buy their silence
and close the book on the past, without revealing the true facts
of what happened during the military dictatorship.
(22) For a discussion of several
cases where there has been forgiveness between victim and perpetrator
in South Africa, see: Frost, B., 1998 as well as the TRC Final
Report, Volume 5, Chapter 5: "Reconciliation".
(23) Azanian People’s Organisation
(AZAPO) chair in Guateng, Lybon Mabaso, telling a Johannesburg news
conference that the TRC was defeating the ends of justice by attempting
to stop the attorney-general from pursuing apartheid-era human rights
offenders. In "The Truth as it was Told", Weekly
Mail and Guardian, 23 December, 1997.
(24) Azanian People’s Organisation
(AZAPO) and Others v. the President of the Republic of South
(25) In sum, the judgement largely
argues that amnesty was necessary and pragmatic to ensure democracy
in South Africa, and that hopes for large-scale prosecution were
not viable given the inefficiencies of the court system. It argues
that the TRC offered at least potentially some truth and reparations
to a greater number of survivors than the courts would have. The
courts would have offered this to fewer people although the civil
claims would have undoubtedly been larger than the reparations that
may be made available through the TRC. Despite the upholding of
the amnesty provisions, the judgement makes it clear that because
perpetrators will be granted amnesty, those found to be victims
are entitled to ‘individually nuanced’ reparations. Nonetheless,
the judgement makes an important rejoinder to this argument, that
is, the state can take into consideration the available resources,
the claims of all victims and the competing demands of the government
when deciding what reparation policies to implement. See South
African Journal of Human Rights, 13(2), which has several papers
dealing with this ruling.
(26) Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
Interview with Michael Ignatieff, "Getting Away with Murder",
Special Correspondent Programme, BBC2.
(27) To some degree, the TRC can
be said to embody restorative justice principles at a national level;
however, it is argued that it does not wholly embody the principles
of restorative justice at an individual level. This is because victims
in the TRC scenario still do have the individual capacity to effect
the outcome of the amnesty process, and that reparation is made
from the state. There is no obligation on the perpetrator to make
direct amends or offer restitution to the victim in the TRC model.
See Hamber, B. and Kibble, S., forthcoming. Also see Zehr, H., 1997:
South African Journal
on Human Rights, 1997, 13(2).
Antze, P. and Lambek, M. (eds.).
Tense Past: Cultural Essays in Trauma and Memory. London:
Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "Getting
Away with Murder." Interview with Micheal Ignatieff, Special
Correspondent Programme, BBC2.
Asmal, K., Asmal, L., and
Roberts, R. S. Reconciliation Through Truth: A Reckoning
of Apartheid’s Criminal Governance. Cape Town: David Roberts
Organisation (AZAPO) and Others v.
the President of the Republic of South Africa CCT 17/96,
Constitutional Court, 25 July 1996.
Bronkhorst, D. Truth and
Reconciliation: Obstacles and Opportunities for Human Rights.
Amsterdam: Amnesty International, 1995.
Burton, M. "The South
African Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Looking Back, Moving
Forward – Revisiting Conflicts, Striving for Peace." In
B. Hamber (ed.), Past Imperfect: Dealing with the Past in
Northern Ireland and Societies in Transition. Derry / Londonderry:
University of Ulster / INCORE, 1998.
Fromm, E. The Anatomy of
Human Destructiveness. Great Britain: Penguin Books, 1984.
Frost, B. Struggling to
Forgive: Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s Search for Reconciliation.
Great Britain: Harper Collins Publishers, 1998.
Hamber, B. Do Sleeping
Dogs Lie? The Psychological Implications of the Truth and Reconciliation
Commission in South Africa. Seminar Paper No. 5. Johannesburg:
The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, 1995.
Hamber, B. "Living with
the Legacy of Impunity: Lessons for South Africa about Truth,
Justice and Crime in Brazil." Unisa Latin American Report,
13(2), 4-16. Pretoria: Unisa Centre for Latin American Studies,
University of South Africa, 1997.
Hamber, B. "Remembering
to Forget: Issues to Consider when Establishing Structures for
Dealing with the Past." In B. Hamber (ed.), Past Imperfect:
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is a Clinical Psychologist and co-ordinator of the Transition and
Reconciliation Unit at the Centre for the Study of Violence and
Reconciliation, Johannesburg, South Africa. Visiting Tip O’Neill
Fellow at the Initiative on Conflict Resolution and Ethnicity (INCORE)
in Derry, Northern Ireland. He has written widely on the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission and the psychological parameters thereof.
He has edited the book Past Imperfect: Dealing with the Past
in Northern Ireland and Societies in Transition (University
of Ulster / INCORE). Email:
Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, P.O.
Box 30778, Braamfontein, 2017, Johannesburg, South Africa. Tel:
+27 (11) 403-5650 Fax: +27 (11) 339-6785.
is Senior Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex,
United Kingdom. He is the author of Maya Resurgence in Guatemala:
Q’eqchi’ Experiences (Oklahoma, 1995), editor of Human Rights,
Culture and Context (Pluto, 1997), and co-editor of Culture
and Rights (Cambridge, 2001). He has recently published a book
evaluating the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission,
The Politics of Truth and Reconciliation: legitimizing the post-apartheid
state (Cambridge, 2001). He is editor of the journal Anthropological
Theory, published by Sage. Email: R.Wilson@sussex.ac.uk
AFRAS, University of Sussex, Falmer, East Sussex, BN1 9SJ, United
Kingdom, Tel: +44-(1273) 606755, Fax: +44-(1273) 623572.