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Mobilizing Victimization: The construction of a victim-centred approach in the South African truth and reconciliation commission

Leman-Langlois, Stephane
June 4, 2015

Source: (2000) Criminologie. 33(1).

According to the Commission’s discourse, victims identified two common fundamental outcomes of their victimization: their need for financial assistance, and their desire to know the truth. This desire for truth was manifested in two forms: first, the need to know the truth concerning the matter itself, for example, the disappearance of loved ones, and secondly, the restoration of individual dignity through an official and public acknowledgment of their victimization. Whether these outcomes in fact corresponded to the reality experienced by victims themselves tends to be a question of secondary importance, since the organization of the Commission’s discourse allowed perfect integration of their testimonies, their attitude, and even their actual participation.
This integrative power is to a great extent the result of the characteristic form both of testimonies made to the Commission and of statements concerning the participation by and satisfaction of its members: that is, the narrative form. Because of the great capacity of personal biographies to communicate the experience of injustice and of reparation compatible with the daily experiences of the general public, from these narratives may be drawn a normative language almost beyond reproach. Furthermore, each of the narratives, without exception extremely emotionally moving, included the Commission’s role in the implicit or explicit denouement of victimization. The Commission’s logic is further reinforced thereby, as it appears to be extracted from the actual experience of the persons who participated.
In relating their narratives, victims provided the Commission with the necessary material to persuade other victims to participate in the process, to justify itself to the population of South Africa, and to meet its mandate of restoring dignity to victims. Author’s abstract.


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