Democratic South Africa Twenty Years On: A Critical Contemporary Reflection Upon the Work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Evelyn Rose


The twenty-year anniversary of the establishment of democratic governance in South Africa presents a fitting time to reflect upon the work of the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In this article, after outlining the context and remit of the TRC, I consider some of its more recent critiques, concluding that many perspectives present unfair or inappropriate judgements based on either a misreading or misunderstanding of the Commission’s mandate, or a disregard for the contextual constraints within which it operated. Whilst acknowledging its limitations, I argue that the TRC played an essential role in facilitating political transition and maintaining a fragile peace, and that it contributed to creating a more inclusive official historical narrative, as well as a human rights culture. I identify that the Commission’s therapeutic ethos and its emphasis on the human capacity for empathy and compassion were particularly significant in cultivating a shared purpose and sense of national community. I conclude by considering the TRC in the context of key contemporary challenges facing South Africa.


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