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  • Documents on Democracy

South Africa

The 3,500-page final report of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, detailing the crimes of the apartheid era, was released on October 29 amidst court challenges and a last-minute ANC attempt to block its release. The report was presented to President Nelson Mandela by the Commission’s chairperson, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, at a ceremony in Pretoria. Excerpts from Archbishop Tutu’s Foreword follow:

We could not make the journey from a past marked by conflict, injustice, oppression, and exploitation to a new and democratic dispensation characterised by a culture of respect for human rights without coming face to face with our recent history. No one has disputed that. The differences of opinion have been about how we should deal with that past; how we should go about coming to terms with it. . . .

In our case, dealing with the past means knowing what happened. Who ordered that this person should be killed? Why did this gross violation of human rights take place? We also need to know about the past so that we can renew our resolve and commitment that never again will such violations take place. We need to know about the past in order to establish a culture of respect for human rights. It is only by accounting for the past that we can become accountable for the future.

For all these reasons, our nation, through those who negotiated the transition from apartheid to democracy, chose the option of individual and not blanket amnesty. And we believe that this individual amnesty has demonstrated its value. One of the criteria to be satisfied before amnesty could be granted was full disclosure of the truth. Freedom was granted in exchange for truth. We have, through these means, been able to uncover much of what happened in the past. We know [End Page 177] now what happened to Steve Biko, to the PEBCO Three, to the Cradock Four. . . .

The lies and deception that were at the heart of apartheid—which were indeed its very essence—were frequently laid bare. . . .

Thus, we have trodden the path urged on our people by the preamble to our founding Act, which called on “the need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimisation.”. . .

Ours is a remarkable country. Let us celebrate our diversity, our differences. God wants us as we are. South Africa wants and needs the Afrikaner, the English, the coloured, the Indian, the black. We are sisters and brothers in one family—God’s family, the human family. Having looked the beast of the past in the eye, having asked and received forgiveness and having made amends, let us shut the door on the past, not in order to forget it, but in order not to allow it to imprison us. Let us move into the glorious future of a new kind of society where people count, not because of biological irrelevancies or other extraneous attributes, but because they are persons of infinite worth created in the image of God. Let that society be a new society— more compassionate, more caring, more gentle, more given to sharing—because we have left “the past of a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice” and are moving to a future “founded on the recognition of human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence and development opportunities for all South Africans, irrespective of colour, race, class, belief or sex.”

Like our Constitution, the Commission has helped in laying the secure foundation for the people of South Africa to transcend the divisions and strife of the past, which generated gross violations of human rights, the transgression of humanitarian principles in violent conflicts and a legacy of hatred, fear, guilt and revenge.

My appeal is ultimately directed to us all, black and white together, to close the chapter on our past and to strive together for this beautiful and blessed land as the rainbow people of God.

The Commission has done its share to promote national unity and reconciliation. Their achievement is up to each one of us.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3214
Print ISSN
1045-5736
Pages
pp. 177-181
Launched on MUSE
1999-01-01
Open Access
No
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