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“Overcoming Apartheid: Can Truth Reconcile a Divided Nation?”

Gibson, James L.
June 4, 2015

Source: (2006) The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 603: 82.

Throughout the world, truth commissions are being
constructed under the hope that discovering the “truth”
about a country’s conflictual past will somehow contribute
to “reconciliation.” Most such efforts point to South
Africa’s process as an exemplar of the powerful influence
of truth finding. But has truth actually contributed to
reconciliation in South Africa? No rigorous and systematic
assessment of the truth and reconciliation process
has ever been conducted. This article investigates the
hypothesis that truth leads to reconciliation. Based on a
survey of thirty-seven hundred South Africans in 2001,
the author begins by giving both “truth” and “reconciliation”
clear conceptual and operational meaning. The
author reports empirical evidence that the Truth and
Reconciliation Commission’s “truth” is fairly widely
accepted by South Africans of all races, that some degree
of reconciliation characterizes South Africa today, and
that the collective memory produced by the process
(“truth”) did indeed contribute to reconciliation. The
author then considers whether other divided countries
might be able to use a similar process to propel themselves
toward a more peaceful and democratic future. (author’s abstract)


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