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The Human Rights Violations Hearings of the South African TRC: A Bridge Between Individual Narratives of Suffering and a Contextualizing Master-story of Reconciliation

Verdoolaege, Annelies
June 4, 2015

Source: (2002) Department of African Languages and Cultures, Ghent University, Belgium. Downloaded 19 May 2004.

When looking at the different components of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the proceedings of the Human Rights Violations Committee (HRVC) are generally considered as the most successful. One of the important tasks of this Committee was to organize public ‘victim hearings’, where individual victims could testify about their sufferings and experiences under apartheid. The HRVC argued that telling their stories would have a cathartic effect on the victims: it would allow them to deal with the past trauma and in this way it would enhance reconciliation. The question this paper deals with is to what extend testifiers were limited by contextual constraints while giving their testimonies. Based on some examples I will explain why victims sometimes seemed to be restricted in expressing their ideas the way they wanted to. The paper will suggest that the individual hearings followed a certain pattern and that it was not obvious for the testifiers to deviate from this pattern. The commissioners of the Committee definitely stressed certain topics and they made sure to have full control over the issues expressed by the victims. I will make clear why some concepts were emphasized a lot at the hearings and I will point at the important roles of the audience and the media. Through all this, I will try to give some insight into the ways these hearings were staged on the basis of certain objectives. These objectives went beyond the ‘here-and-now’ aim of healing individual victims, as they were part of the broader TRC context. Author’s abstract.


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