The Truth And Reconciliation Commission in South Africa - A Learner's Diary

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

17 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Brief Summary of the TRC

3. What do I think about the TRC as a method to deal with the past?

4. Antjie Krog’s background feelings

5. Analysis of chapter 28 in Gillian Slovo’s Red Dust

6. Comparison

7. The main characters’ attitude towards the TRC

8. The two Cartoons

9. Fazit

10. Bibliography

1. Introduction

In this learner’s diary I will try to give an insight into the learning progress I went through during the course The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. The order of the chapters reflects the order of the session we had at university. I will not hide my own opinion in order to stick to to the idea of a diary. I will use in class material and sheets that we worked out in groups. In addition to that, I will support my own ideas by quotations of the novels we read and information I found.

2. Brief Summary of the TRC

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up by the Government of National Unity to help deal with what happened under apartheid. The conflict during this period resulted in violence and human rights abuses from all sides. No section of society escaped these abuses.[1]

So the TRC was a unit of involved people of both sides. On the one hand the oppressed and on the other hand the oppressors. But the subjective of the TRC was not to find out who was guilty but to offer forgiveness on each side. Amnesty based in ubuntu. Ubuntu is an ancient African word, meaning ‘humanity to others’. Ubuntu also means "I am what I am because of who we all are"[2] . Without internalising the ubuntu spirit there won’t be any freedom at all.

The TRC travelled to the places where atrocities had happened with all its members. It gave victims the chance to tell their stories. For the first time in their lives it gave a voice to black women. Before that, it was the leadership who decided what was right; a white, male dominated leadership who was always right in what they did. The TRC was not a court and it could not give sentences but everyone had the chance to justify or to apology themselves. The spirit of ubuntu gives force to accept the apology, not to bear a grudge.

The Leader of the TRC was the Archbishop Tutu. If the opressor convinced Tutu that he regrets and that he acted in political belief, he got amnesty from Tutu. Political belief was the keyword. The statement in front of the commission had to content that one believed in the government. You can not say that you tortured somebody because you were keen on it and then apology. The only reason to achieve amnesty is when one acted in political belief. Amnesty means having the right not to feel guilty anymore. One will be forgiven and can continue life with a free heart. It was almost the same amnesty than in court because Tutu acted like a lawyer. When he decided for amnesty the opressor would not get an official trial.

The difficulty for the TRC was to decide who should be inside?

Which Afrikaners will be on the Commission? Those who paid a price in the past for their stance against Apartheid or those who can now draw in the supporter of the National Party and right-wingers? And how can a former right-wing Afrikaner take moral decisions about people whose sentiments he shared?[3]

So the members had not to be prejudiced on either side. They have to be able to feel sympathy for both sides. With this feeling of understanding for both parites, the TRC did a successful job. Furthermore,

the TRC was largely successful in its efforts ‘to expose as much truth as possible about those human rights violations that tend to be cloaked in denials and would otherwise, in all likelihood, have remained obscured from the public eye.[4]

The TRC members had to have a great knowledge of human nature in order to recognize the truth and not to be cheated. If one had committed a crime he could also lie to get amnesty.

The set objectives were:

- completing a picure of violations
- restoring the victims’ dignity
- giving victims a voice and a chance for healing
- considering to grant amnesty

On a more general level the aim was to establish a South African identity. People were lost in their proper identities because before there was a black and a white identity where everyone found themselves. The hearings, the forgiveness and the reconciliations facilitated a united identity.

3. W hat do I think about the TRC as a method to deal with the past?

It was hard work. All repressed memories came back, everyone was confronted with their own past. The victims, the opressors, the atrocities were all alive again.

The traumatic past cannot be assimilated into memory and consciousness as other events normally are, because the trauma survivor continues to be haunted by the past and is compelled to relive it literally, through nightmares, hallucinations, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.[5]

Nothing could have been harder than to ‘repeat’ these situations. They repeat themselves enough in nightmares but to tell them in front of a commission is much harder; several people who question the details, that is very tough. But it was needful work because without working up your past, you cannot start your future.

In Germany, where we had similar atrocities, we dealt with them in another way. It could be called a great repression and a black point in history. But it is not that easy to compare these situations because in Germany, Hitler forced a final solution. His final solution meant to annihilate all Jews. In the movie in my country Samuel L. Jackson wrote in an article about the ‘South African Holocaust’, here he means the people’s mentality; how they behaved during apartheid. He questions if it was possible not to notice injustice, not to see uprisings, not to know the ambitions their black neighbours followed. Later they deny that those scenes happened and that their white neighbours were the perpetrators. Weird world? In Germany there are people who think that Auschwitz is a lie.

Krog used the same comparison saying paying money as reconciliation – like in Germany - is not enough. Victims should have a voice to tell their stories. In Germany, 6 million Jews died among the Hitler era; they do not have a voice anymore. Reconciliation was paid for members of their families. Krog’s comparison is limping. In Germany there were the Nuremberg Trials, there the perpetrators got sentences but no one raised his voice to apology. They justified themselves saying they had just done their jobs out of political belief. Jews did not raise their voices either because they were dead or took refuge.

Germany has not worked up its past, yet. It has been hushed up; a taboo what is hardly ever discussed. We tend to feel sorry even the younger generation because there is no feeling of unity among Germany. Maybe we wait until the last survivor dies and then we can talk about it like about an ancient historical topic.

What happened during the time of apartheid was not fair, so it was hard to live in South Africa. The TRC ‘just’ tried to disclose these human right violations; the disposal war. Injustices could not be redone by the TRC. I also think that perpetrators had the chance to acquit themselves without regretting their deeds and then going without penalty.

The US, in a way, had its own period of apartheid until the 1960s. The US was the biggest customer for slaves. So Americans were not used to treating them in a human way. Why should they treat the descendants in another way? Black Americans were in first instance black before they were called American. They had no chance, rights or opportunities. Exceptions were made in sports. Hans-Jürgen Masaquoi wrote about the civil-rights movement, what made the change, in the US in his second autobiographical novel.[6] He was, after having had the stoney way, an editor at ‘ebony’, a magazine for black Americans. It had a column about a successful black each month. Caused by that column, the edition rised and so did the self-confidence among black inhabitants. Actually, there were so many blacks who raised their voice against unjustice and they took their part of equality where it was not offered to them. To come to the point, the US coped with its past without hearings of atrocities and without paying for victims. They dealt with it in a third way and this one worked as well. Like nobody is perfect, the US has its own black sheep, especially in the south, called the Ku Kux Klan.

There are so many ways to come up with one’s past that I cannot say which one is right or wrong. If the result is what counts, the way would not matter. But to my mind it is the most humane way to give victims a voice and thereby the chance to restore their dignity.


[1] The official TRC Website on 20.05.06

[2] on 20.05.05

[3] Antje Krog: 1999 p. 30

[4] Shane Graham: 2003 p.11

[5] Shane Graham: 2003 p. 13

[6] see Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi: 2005

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Truth And Reconciliation Commission in South Africa - A Learner's Diary
University of Duisburg-Essen
The Truth And Reconciliation Commission in South Africa
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Truth, Reconciliation, Commission, South, Africa, Learner, Diary, Truth, Reconciliation, Commission, South, Africa
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Daniela Kröner (Author), 2006, The Truth And Reconciliation Commission in South Africa - A Learner's Diary, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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