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The Impossible Machine

A Genealogy of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Adam Sitze

Publication Year: 2013

Adam Sitze meticulously traces the origins of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission back to two well-established instruments of colonial and imperial governance: the jurisprudence of indemnity and the commission of inquiry. This genealogy provides a fresh, though counterintuitive, understanding of the TRC’s legal, political, and cultural importance. The TRC’s genius, Sitze contends, is not the substitution of “forgiving” restorative justice for “strict” legal justice but rather the innovative adaptation of colonial law, sovereignty, and government. However, this also contains a potential liability: if the TRC’s origins are forgotten, the very enterprise intended to overturn the jurisprudence of colonial rule may perpetuate it. In sum, Sitze proposes a provocative new means by which South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission should be understood and evaluated.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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pp. 1-1

About the Author, Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

...no attempt at thinking is complete unless it includes some attempt at thanking. This is particularly true for a book such as this, whose thinking came into being through an especially long and circuitous path. This book originated in a dissertation written under the direction of John Mowitt in the Department of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at the University...

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pp. 1-20

...Whatever else it has accomplished, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has succeeded in eluding the scholarship that has attempted to take it as an object of knowledge. Perhaps because of its unusual mix of public testimony, psychotherapy, political theology, and juridical procedure, which for some endowed it with an intrinsically elusive “hybrid” quality—or perhaps, as this...

Part 1

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Chapter 1. Indemnity and Amnesty

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pp. 23-49

...One of the main concerns of transitional justice has been the question of why and how South Africa’s TRC is unprecedented. The consensus within transitional justice is that the TRC is unprecedented because its amnesties were not issued en masse but were individualized and conditional upon public, full disclosure of crimes...

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Chapter 2. Indemnity and Sovereignty

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pp. 50-71

...enabled National Party jurists to find in Dicey a main theoretical source, perhaps even their main theoretical source, for the theory of parliamentary sovereignty that enabled the NP to argue against the judicial review of racist legislation. On the other hand, Dicey’s insistence that parliamentary...

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Chapter 3. Indemnity in Crisis

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pp. 72-97

...In 1961, the South African right would realize one of its long-held aspirations. South Africa would shed its mostly ceremonial status as a British dominion and become an independent republic. The 1961 republican Constitution—the “high-point” of parliamentary sovereignty in South Africa—coincided, however, with a growing impotence on the part of the apartheid state’s juridical and political...

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Chapter 4. Indemnity in the TRC

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pp. 98-128

...the apartheid state’s deployment of indemnity jurisprudence not only put indemnity jurisprudence into crisis, but also produced the very conditions under which it became necessary to devise an institution like the TRC. In the 1992 speech that is widely considered to have introduced the very idea of a Truth Commission into South Africa’s political transition, Kader Asmal argued...

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Chapter 5. What Is a Commission?

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pp. 131-157

...In addition to claims about its “individualized amnesties,” there is another feature of the TRC that often is considered unprecedented and that, as such, lays claim to our genealogical attention. “What we have tried to do in the Bill,” Johnny de Lange explained in his 1995 presentation of the PNR Bill Act to Parliament...

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Chapter 6. The Rise and Fall of the Tumult Commission

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pp. 158-187

...In colonial Southern Africa, the Commission of Inquiry would operate much differently than it did in the nineteenth-century metropole. Beginning at least with the 1823–35 Commission of Inquiry into the Condition and Treatment of Natives in Southern Africa, the purpose of the Commission of Inquiry was to enable the emergence of colonial government within the unfamiliar political space of the colonial territory...

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Chapter 7. A Tumult Commission of a Special Type?

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pp. 188-214

...In its strongest iteration, the argument on behalf of Truth Commissions within transitional justice assumes a form at once dialectical and critical. Against those who would criticize Truth Commissions on the assumption that criminal prosecution is the only or best paradigm of justice, transitional scholars deploy two arguments. The first and most well known is equal parts epistemic and ethical. Against ...

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Chapter 8. Out of Commission: Salus or Ubuntu?

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pp. 215-248

...often interpreted within transitional justice in opposition to the basic concepts of liberal legality: it is understood to prioritize symbiosis and cooperation over competition between individuals, social harmony and forgiveness over punishment, restorative justice over adversarial litigation, and duties to the collective over individual...

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Epilogue: Toward a Critique of Transitional Justice

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pp. 249-258

...F. Hegel offered a pithy and justly famous observation about the nonidentity between philosophy and the real present—the “actuality”—that philosophy desires to think. “The owl of Minerva,” wrote Hegel, “begins its flight only with the falling of the dusk.” If Hegel’s remark is not off the mark, then thought will be quite limited in its ability to think its own present. It will acquire the ability to think...


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pp. 259-342


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pp. 343-370


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pp. 371-380

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029105
E-ISBN-10: 047202910X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118755
Print-ISBN-10: 0472118757

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 1 figure
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 856017207
MUSE Marc Record: Download for The Impossible Machine

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Subject Headings

  • South Africa. Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
  • Justice, Administration of -- South Africa -- History.
  • Rule of law -- South Africa -- History.
  • Judges -- South Africa -- History.
  • Apartheid -- South Africa.
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