Lecture 4: The Challenges of Transitional Justice: The Story of Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in South Africa and Beyond


Interim Constitution Post-Amble:

“This Constitution provides a historic bridge between the past of a deeply divided society characterized by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice, and 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.

The pursuit of national unity, the well-being of all South African citizens and peace require reconciliation between the people of South Africa an the reconstruction of society.

The adoption of this Constitution lays 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.

These can now be addressed on the basis that there is a need for understanding but not for vengeance, a need for reparation but not for retaliation, a need for ubuntu but not for victimization.

In order to advance such reconciliation and reconstruction, amnesty shall be granted in respect of acts, omissions and offences associated with political objectives and committed in the course of the conflicts of the past. To this end, Parliament under this Constitution shall adopt a law determining a firm cut-off date, which shall be a date after 8 October 1990 and before 6 December 1993, and providing for the mechanisms, criteria and procedures, including tribunals, if any, through which such amnesty shall be dealt with at any time after the law has been passed.

With this Constitution and these commitments we, the people of South Africa, open a new chapter in the history of our country.”

Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 54-55:

“One might…say that perhaps justice failes to be done only if the concept we entertain of justice is retributive justice, whose chief goal is to be punitive, so that the wronged party is really the state, something impersonal, which has little consideration for the real victims and almost none for the perpetrator.

We contend that there is another kind of justice, restorative justice, which was characteristic of traditional African jurisprudence. Here the central concern is not retribution or punishment. In the spirit of ubuntu, the central concern is the healing of breaches, the redressing of imbalances, the restoration of broken relationships, a seeking to rehabilitate both the victim and the perpetrator, who should be given the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community he has injured by his offense.

This is a far more personal approach, regarding the offense as something that has happened to persons and whose consequence is a rupture in relationships. Thus we would claim that justice, restorative justice, is being served when efforts are being made to work for healing, for forgiving, for reconciliation.”

Suggested Readings and Videos:

Truth Justice Memory: South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Process by Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 13-32.

Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, 47-65.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, “Forgiveness is ‘the wrong word’: Empathic Repair and the Potential for Human Connection in the Aftermath of Historical Trauma,” in Alternative Approaches in Conflict Resolution, eds. Martin Leiner and Christine Schliesser (Springer International, 2017), 111-123.