Durban - The government ignored recommendations given to it after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and this had damaged South Africans’ chances of reconciliation.
Speaking in a panel discussion in Durban on Monday, Alex Boraine, who was the vice-chairman of the TRC, said reconciliation was “dead on the vine” if it was not coupled with economic justice, and this had not happened.
Other panel members included award-winning author and columnist Max du Preez, social activist Ela Gandhi, former Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs and actress Thembi Mtshali-Jones.
The event, “Unmasking Reconciliation: 20 Years On… Moving Beyond the Cliché”, was hosted by the the Durban International Film Festival to complement the screenings of the films: A Snake Gives Birth to a Snake and Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa.
“The TRC discovered the truth and brought about healing. Unfortunately its momentum was lost when the government took forever to implement some of the recommendations and completely ignored others,” said Boraine.
Reconciliation was not an alternative to justice but part of it, and the government failed the victims of apartheid and citizens by doing nothing and by ignoring 120 pages of recommendations.
“We, as a country, are in trouble. Our search for reconciliation is going to continue for years if we don’t admit we are in trouble,” he said.
All South Africans, black and white, were “psychologically damaged” by apartheid, making reconciliation important for everyone.
“We need to get out of the past, deal with it and move on,” he said.
Faith communities had taken a back seat in the new South Africa after being at the forefront of the struggle.
“Faith organisations could help this country in its struggle for reconciliation. We need a partnership between them, the government and civil society.”
Responding to Boraine’s comments, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Kenneth Lukuko said the TRC could have achieved more had it not been limited in its scope, timeframe (1960-1994) and duration.
“There is still a lot of unfinished business when it comes to the TRC,” he said. This was as a result of its limitations and the failure to implement its recommendations.
Lukuko said the government, academia, faith organisations and the commission should have been made responsible for implementing the TRC recommendations.
“Reconciliation becomes very difficult when there is no inclusive history; and that could have been achieved if all the recommendations were carried out.
“We could have re-written this country’s history just by giving perpetrators more time to come and tell their stories. The problem is that during the TRC some perpetrators believed it was a witch-hunt but I’m sure they now realise that it’s safe to talk; only we no longer have the platform for them to do so.
“Now, 20 years later, we are sitting in a country with different versions of history and each person thinking their history is just.”
He said the TRC had failed to address economic and education issues, leaving some victims resentful.
“If we look at whether the commission succeeded in its search for the truth, then to some extent it did, but the opportunity for reconciliation was lost because the issues of (perpetrators’) remorse and (victims’) forgiveness were not achieved in some cases.”
Lukuko said another hindrance to reconciliation was the lack of remorse by those who supported and benefited from apartheid.
“It might do this country good to re-open the TRC and not limit the timeframe and scope this time. That might actually see us achieving some sort of reconciliation,” said Lukuko.
Sachs and Du Preez said that even though the country still had a long way to go, it had achieved much.
Sachs cited how former president Thabo Mbeki had stepped down after being voted out by his party and was not replaced in a coup.
Sachs said South Africans were quick to beat themselves up about “every little thing.”
Du Preez supported this, saying South Africa had a more open society than most western democracies.
“I’m not saying we should shy away from criticism but let’s also look around and actually enjoy what we have.”
This was brought home when the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela released her Nkandla Report, Du Preez said.
“On the same day Twitter was banned in Turkey. That would never happen here – we are one of a few countries where citizens can openly criticise government.”
Asked for comment on the panel discussion, the president’s spokesman, Mac Maharaj, said he would not comment on remarks made in a panel discussion.
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who was chairman of the TRC, is overseas but his spokesman, Roger Friedman, forwarded an article by Tutu, published in the Mail and Guardian.
In that piece Tutu said that former president Mandela not serving a second term as president was a “mortal blow” to the commission.
“I do not believe that Mandela would have left the commission’s business so scandalously unfinished, as his successors have,” said Tutu.
TRC suggestions included: