Friday, April 25, 2014

Tutu on the 'Unfinished Business' of the TRC

"The commission was a beginning, not an end. It united South Africans around a common fire for the first time in history to hear the stories of our past, so that we could begin to understand each other – and ourselves – and take forward the job of developing the compassionate and just society for which so many had suffered and laid down their lives. 
The tardy and limited payments of reparations to victims of human rights violations eroded the very dignity that the commission sought to build. The fact that the government did not prosecute those who failed to apply for amnesty undermined those who did. The proposal of a once-off wealth tax as a vehicle for those who had benefited from the past to contribute to the future was stillborn.

To use a medical analogy, the soul of apartheid South Africa was on its deathbed, fundamentally crippled, shot through with the cancers of immorality and inequity, and financially bankrupt.

In the 1990s a new superintendent took over the hospital. South Africans dared to dream of a miraculous recovery. The superintendent appointed a matron, on a contract basis, to blow some momentum into the recovery process.

The commission succeeded in its mandate to stabilise the patient sufficiently to move it out of intensive care into a general ward. But then the government decided further treatment was unnecessary.

Our soul remains profoundly troubled. The symptoms are all around us."
 Read "Tutu: 'Unfinished business' of the TRC's healing" (Mail & Guardian: April 25).

Comment: Perhaps the biggest problem was/is that the TRC politicized the truth.  In other words the truth was made to fit a political purpose.

That purpose is captured in the naming of the commission: truth and reconciliation.

The questions that persist are: which truth and what is to be reconciled?

The latter is particularly problematic because how does any post-conflict society measure reconciliation?

In the case of the TRC the purpose was as much to make some of the past known as it was to keep most of it unknown.

This may sound like a sinister condemnation but my point is that the state cannot be entrusted with the purpose of making the past known in its fullest character because it is simply incapable of such a nuanced and long-term project.

The past is to be uncovered by those who can see beyond the purpose of narrow politics.  In terms of this alone the state and its attachments - in a Gramscian sense - is simply incapable of uncovering a fuller truth.

Healing is entirely another matter though it too cannot be the province of the state and its attachments.


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