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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 1

Paragraph Numbers 1 to19

Volume 1

Chapter 1

Subsection 1

Volume ONE Chapter ONE

Foreword by Chairperson


1 All South Africans know that our recent history is littered with some horrendous occurrences - the Sharpville and Langa killings, the Soweto uprising, the Church Street bombing, Magoo’s Bar, the Amanzimtoti Wimpy Bar bombing, the St James’ Church killings, Boipatong and Sebokeng. We also knew about the deaths in detention of people such as Steve Biko, Neil Aggett, and others; necklacings, and the so-called ‘black on black’ violence on the East Rand and in KwaZulu Natal which arose from the rivalries between IFP and first the UDF and later the ANC. Our country is soaked in the blood of her children of all races and of all political persuasions.

2 It is this contemporary history - which began in 1960 when the Sharpville disaster took place and ended with the wonderful inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the first democratically-elected President of the Republic of South Africa - it is this history with which we have had to come to terms. We could not pretend it did not happen. Everyone agrees that South Africans must deal with that history and its legacy. It is how we do this that is in question - a bone of contention throughout the life of the Commission, right up to the time when this report was being written. And I imagine we can assume that this particular point will remain controversial for a long time to come.


3 One of the unique features of the South African Commission has been its open and transparent nature. Similar commissions elsewhere in the world have met behind closed doors. Ours has operated in the full glare of publicity. This means that some of the information contained in this report is already in the public domain. Nonetheless, some significant and new insights are included in the pages that follow.

4 The work of the South African Commission has also been far more extensive than that of other commissions. The volume of material that passed through our hands will fill many shelves in the National Archives. This material will be of great value to scholars, journalists and others researching our history for generations to come. From a research point of view, this may the Commission’s greatest legacy.

5 The report that follows tries to provide a window on this incredible resource, offering a road map to those who wish to travel into our past. It is not and cannot be the whole story; but it provides a perspective on the truth about a past that is more extensive and more complex than any one commission could, in two and a half years, have hoped to capture.

6 Others will inevitably critique this perspective - as indeed they must. We hope that many South Africans and friends of South Africa will become engaged in the process of helping our nation to come to terms with its past and, in so doing, reach out to a new future.

7 This report has been constrained by a number of factors - not least by the extent of the Commission’s mandate and a number of legal provisions contained in the Act. It was, at the same time, driven by a dual responsibility. It had to provide the space within which victims could share the story of their trauma with the nation; and it had to recognise the importance of the due process of law that ensures the rights of alleged perpetrators. Several court rulings emphasised the importance of the latter. Obviously, the Commission respected these judgements. They did, however, sometimes make our efforts to obtain information about the past more difficult. This, in its turn, caused us to err on the side of caution in making our findings. Despite these difficulties, however, we can still claim, without fear of being contradicted, that we have contributed more to uncovering the truth about the past than all the court cases in the history of apartheid.

8 There are a number of important points I would like to make before moving to a discussion of this report.

9 First, because the Amnesty Committee has not completed its statutory responsibilities and will not have done so until it has considered every application for amnesty before it, this report cannot, strictly speaking, be considered to be final. Once the Amnesty Committee has completed its work, the Commission will be recalled to consider the implications of the hearings that have taken place and to add a codicil to the report. Only at that stage can the Commission’s report be regarded as final.

10 The second point is to stress that, in preparing this report, we have followed procedures common to many other national and international commissions. It would have been totally impossible for seventeen commissioners to write a single report. We have thus leaned very heavily on our Research Department to produce drafts for consideration by commissioners. Further, we have used group methods and different commissioners have been given responsibilities in respect of different chapters. The product is thus a joint effort of staff and commissioners, but each section was formally adopted by the full Commission in plenary sessions. Thus, the ultimate responsibility for this report lies with the commissioners.

11 The third point I would like to make concerns lustration - the disqualification or removal from public office of people who have been implicated in violations of human rights. The Commission considered this question carefully and finally decided not to recommend that this step be pursued. It is suggested, however, that when making appointments and recommendations, political parties and the state should take into consideration the disclosures made in the course of the Commission’s work.

12 Fourth, a few words need to be said about that great difficulty South Africans experience when describing their fellow compatriots. The former government defined every person according to a racial category or group. Over the years, these became the badges of privilege and of deprivation. For the purposes of the report, the significance of this racial branding is simply that these categories are reflected in statistics produced over the years and, in their own way, provide a guide to the inequities of the past.

13 From the late 1960s and 1970s, the Black Consciousness Movement campaigned for the use of the word black to describe all those defined as other than white. However, this was by no means universally accepted and many members of the so-called black group still prefer to be described as coloured, Indian and so on. Another debate arises around the term African. Does this or can this refer only to black Africans? The debate is not really capable of being resolved. Generally in this report, black Africans are referred to as Africans. Coloured people, people of Indian or Asian origin and white people are referred to as such. No disrespect is intended to any group or political perspective. It is simply impossible to write a history of South Africa without erring on one side or another of the argument.

14 Finally, every attempt has been made to check, recheck and check again the spelling of the names included in this report. If there are errors, please forgive us.

15 Ultimately, this report is no more than it claims to be. It is the report of a commission appointed by Parliament to complete an enormous task in a limited period. Everyone involved in producing this report would have loved to have had the time to capture the many nuances and unspoken truths encapsulated in the evidence that came before us. This, however, is a task which others must take up and pursue.

16 A Dutch visitor to the Commission observed that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission must fail. Its task is simply too demanding. Yet, she argued, “even as it fails, it has already succeeded beyond any rational expectations”. She quoted Emily Dickinson: “the truth must dazzle gradually ... or all the world would be blind”. However, the Commission has not been prepared to allow the present generation of South Africans to grow gently into the harsh realities of the past and, indeed, many of us have wept as we were confronted with its ugly truths. However painful the experience has been, we remain convinced that there can be no healing without truth. My appeal to South Africans as they read this report is not to use it to attack others, but to add to it, correct it and ultimately to share in the process that will lead to national unity through truth and reconciliation.

17 The past, it has been said, is another country. The way its stories are told and the way they are heard change as the years go by. The spotlight gyrates, exposing old lies and illuminating new truths. As a fuller picture emerges, a new piece of the jigsaw puzzle of our past settles into place.

18 Inevitably, evidence and information about our past will continue to emerge, as indeed they must. The report of the Commission will now take its place in the historical landscape of which future generations will try to make sense - searching for the clues that lead, endlessly, to a truth that will, in the very nature of things, never be fully revealed.

19 It has been the privilege of this Commission to explore a part of that landscape and to represent the truths that emerged in the process. And we have tried, in whatever way we could, to weave into this truth about our past some essential lessons for the future of the people of this country. Because the future, too, is another country. And we can do no more than lay at its feet the small wisdoms we have been able to garner out of our present experience.

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