Source: (2002) diacritics. 32(3–4): 33–59. Fall-Winter.

As Mahmood Mamdani points out, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) resulted from legislation which was a political compromise. The compromise legislation both made the TRC possible and set the limits of the TRC’s work. Those limits prescribed the framework within which the TRC could interpret its terms of reference and define its agenda. Against all of this, Mamdani focuses on the TRC’s interpretation of its terms of reference. The TRC sought justice and reconciliation by offering individual amnesty for perpetrators of injustice who told the truth, and acknowledgement of the truth and reparations for victims of injustice. In short, the TRC offered amnesty for truth for perpetrators and restorative justice for victims. Accepting all of this, Mamdani identifies and examines three key limitations in the TRC’s report on its attempts to fulfill its mandate: the individualization of victims of apartheid; the failure to highlight the nature of apartheid as a form of power that governed natives differently from non-natives; and the extension of impunity to most perpetrators of apartheid.