Forgive the past to survive the future

Forgiveness does not come cheaply; it comes deeply from the heart. In 1995, truth and reconciliation commission was formed in South Africa as an aftermath of apartheid, as a deal between the former white-minority regime and the African National Congress. Formal hearings began on 16 April 1996. It was amazing to see that the leaders that evolved in the camp decided to forgive instead of prosecuting. The nation thought it was immensely important to heal than to punish. They opened their arms and welcomed the individuals to admit their crime fully. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was created to investigate gross human rights violations that were perpetrated during the period of the Apartheid regime from 1960 to 1994, including abductions, killings, torture. Its mandate covered both violation by both the state and the liberation movements and allowed the commission to hold special hearings focused on specific sectors, institutions, and individuals.

We all read and learnt about the aftermath of the apartheid but very few of us wanted to know what happened after the commission was held. Here was the chance for the South Africans to begin anew. But even after two decades of the TRC commission there is barely any changes. What remained were the traumatic memories of the stories that were told. According to sources there were widows whose husbands were brutally killed by the apartheid forces present at the hearing. Suring their testimony all they could do was to let out a scream which still haunts many who were present.

Significant and Impact

The reconciliatory approach was seen as a successful way of dealing with human-rights violations after political change, either from internal or external factors. Consequently, other countries have instituted similar commissions, though not always with the same scope or the allowance for charging those currently in power.

In one survey study, the effectiveness of the TRC Commission was measured on a variety of levels:

  • Its usefulness in terms of confirming what had happened during the apartheid regime (“bringing out the truth”)
  • The feelings of reconciliation that could be linked to the Commission
  • The positive effects (both domestically and internationally) that the Commission brought about (i.e. in the political and the economic environment of South Africa).

The differences in opinions about the effectiveness can be attributed to how each group viewed the proceedings. Some viewed them as not entirely accurate, as many people would lie in order to keep themselves out of trouble while receiving amnesty for their crimes. (The Commission would grant amnesty to some with consideration given to the weight of the crimes committed.) Some said that the proceedings only helped to remind them of the horrors that had taken place in the past when they had been working to forget such things. Thus, the TRC’s effectiveness in terms of achieving those very things within its title is still debatable

In a series of photographs, Gonzales Day shows lynchings of black bodies with the images of the ropes and bodies removed from the scene of the crime, leaving the white spectators in the photographs. The series invites the viewer to cast the gaze not on the victims of the lynchings, but rather on the spectators to this crime, gleefully standing by to witness this atrocity to its conclusion.

Other TRCs around the world

Following South Africa’s truth and reconciliation commission, many more truth commissions have been created and continue to be created. These include repeat commissions in some countries where the first commission was constrained and new governments felt it had not carried out a full accounting for the past. It has become a model for other countries. Commissions have been widespread in the aftermath of conflict as components of peace agreements in Africa since the 1990. For example, Congo and Sierra Leone have used truth commissions. Chile’s Commission for Truth and Reconciliation was followed by a Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture in 2003. Approximately 3,000 people died or went missing during the years of Augusto Pinochet‘s rule. Pinochet’s successor created the first commission in 1990. The Nepalese Truth Commission was followed by a new commission in 2014; and there have been calls for a new truth commission to supplement the Panama Truth Commission established in 2000.

Commissions have also started to operate with targeted mandates related to indigenous peoples or the aftermath of colonialism. Canada’s truth commission focused on the legacies of Indian residential schools and indigenous-settler relations. Canada sanctioned a program that allowed the kidnapping of native children in order to assimilate them. In 2006 schools that were set in Indian residential areas sued Canada and began the process towards enacting a truth and reconciliation commission.  Also, Australia has held a National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. On the other hand, Germany has held two truth commissions on human rights violations in the former East Germany.

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