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Reconciliation and Revenge in Post-Apartheid South Africa: Rethinking Legal Pluralism and Human Rights

Wilson, Richard A
June 4, 2015

Source: (1999) Paper prepared to be presented at TRC : Commissioning the Past. Witz University 11-14 June 1999. Downloaded 3 March 2004.

Human rights are a central element in the new governmental project in the ‘New South Africa’, and this article traces some of the specific forms of connection and disconnection between notions of justice found in townships of the Vaal and rights discourses as articulated by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Human rights in post-apartheid South Africa have had varied social effects which are understood through the categories of ‘adductive affinities’ and ‘relational discontinuities’. Religious values and human rights discourse have converged on the notion of
‘reconciliation’ on the basis of shared value orientations and institutional structures. There are clear divergences, however, between human rights and notions of justice as expressed in local lekgotla, or township courts, which emphasized punishment and revenge. The article concludes that the plurality of legal orders in South Africa results not from systemic relations between ‘law’ and ‘society’. Instead, pluralism emerges from multiple forms of social action seeking to alter the direction of social change in the area of justice, within the context of the nation-building project of the postapartheid state. Author’s abstract.


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