COMING TO TERMS by Martin Meredith


South Africa's Search for Truth
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A judicious appraisal of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As a way of addressing its apartheid past and healing the divisions within the country, the makers of the new South African Constitution agreed to the formation of the TRC in 1995. Inevitably a product of compromise, the TRC could investigate only the gross violations of human rights that occurred between 1960 and 1994: “The extremes of apartheid, not its normality, would be examined.— It could grant amnesty, but individuals who did not request amnesty risked prosecution. Veteran journalist Meredith (Nelson Mandela, 1997, etc.) details the pivotal role Archbishop Tutu, the chairman, played in the proceedings. Meredith includes moving testimony from the victims of state-sponsored apartheid and the African National Congress (ANC), and exchanges between the judges and such notorious members of the police force as —Prime Evil— Colonel de Kock, who was involved in at least 70 brutal killings. Politicians like former president F.W. de Klerk and current president Thabo Mbeki were defensive in their testimony, and the ANC rejected the TRC’s findings until Nelson Mandela overruled them, giving South Africans, both black and white, more a sense of relief than achievement. Yet in a complementary essay, Pulitzer Prize—winner Tina Rosenberg contends that the TRC succeeded because it “democratized the process of dealing with the past. Describing how countries such as Chile and Czechoslovakia dealt with their respective pasts, she concludes that “trials and truth are not an end in themselves. They help people to heal and make it less likely future generations will suffer. They should be used only in service of those goals.” A timely, persuasive primer on how best to punish, and perhaps prevent, gross violations of human rights. (8 pages b&w photos)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 1-891620-33-9
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2000


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