Email this review


The story of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and a meditation on evil and forgiveness from Nobel laureate Tutu (The Rainbow People of God: The Making of a Peaceful Revolution, 1994). In 1994, South Africa faced a historically unique situation. A long-oppressed majority had peacefully taken power from its minority oppressor. As Tutu explains, the question facing the nation was, What then to do? Should Nuremberg-like trials be held against those who had maintained the ghastly system of apartheid? Or, as many whites wished, should the past be forgotten, let bygones be bygones? The new regime found what Tutu calls “a third way” to deal with the past: the TRC. Those who had committed politically motivated crimes during the apartheid era would receive amnesty if they made full and truthful public disclosures. In turn, the victims of such acts would be allowed to tell their stories in the hopes that this would restore a measure of their human dignity. Over 18 months some 20,000 victims appeared before the commission, imparting their tales of personal anguish—of torture, rape, imprisonment—but also exposing a system perpetrated and supported by the highest levels of government, military, and police. No longer could anyone deny knowledge of the past, as so many whites had; never again would such an evil be allowed to exist in South Africa. Yet it would be not only supporters of apartheid answering for their deeds. Those who had committed crimes in the fight against the system, including Winnie Mandela, would answer for their acts as well. Bishop Tutu’s writing on this process is nothing short of miraculous. He is strong in his defense of the commission that so many doubted as either too harsh or too lenient. He is also anguished by the depths of human depravity the commission hearings revealed, but passionately hopeful that human caring and unity might prevail, in South Africa and the world. In its sober depiction and searing indictment of evil and in its never-maudlin advocacy of love, this is a masterpiece. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-49689-3
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1999


NonfictionWE ARE NOT SUCH THINGS by Justine van der Leun
by Justine Van Der Leun
IndieFORGIVING THEM by Rosie M. Hill
by Rosie M. Hill
NonfictionSUPERSURVIVORS by David B. Feldman
by David B. Feldman