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The Future of the Past in South Africa:On the Legacy of TRC

Herwitz, Daniel
June 4, 2015

Source: (2005) Social Research. 72(3):531

“VOLUME 5 OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN TRUTH AND RECONCIIIATION contains a list of all the victims of gross human
rights violations whose names appeared in the commission’s database at that time (August 30,1998).’ The list is arranged in three columns and is nearly 100 pages long. It is a factual compendium, for the archive, in keeping with a crucial intention of the TRC: to gather evidence of atrocity in the name of the nation. It is also a memorial, not unlike the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. by Maya Lin, whose stark litany
of the dead is a chronology of loss reduced to names and years. The list of the victims in the TRC report is not cast in the hard
currency of cut masonry like Lin’s memorial, but appears only as ink
on paper. Nevertheless, when read as a memorial rather than a mere
compilation of facts, and when read as a distillation of the powerful
events of the commission, the report takes on an aura akin to that of
Lin’s memorial. This is in accord with the religious-biblical character of
the TRC, a work of nation-building guided by three men of the cloth—
the most famous of whom was Bishop Desmond Titu who, dressed in
his flaming crimson robes and speaking the homilies of divinity before
the victims, sternly urged perpetrators to full disclosure and even
confession. A report of five volumes whose Utopian gesture is to distill
truth into reconciliation, suffering into forgiveness, historical strife
into national identity, and word into divinity lends that book the aura
of a thing of grace to be reverentially held in one’s hands: a bible of
contemporary times.” (Excerpt)


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