Unsung Heroines: Media Reflections of the Social Conflict in South Africa

In: African and Asian Studies


This essay examines both media reports on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), and the TRC's final report, to determine the reasons why women are portrayed in the media — when they are portrayed at all — almost exclusively as victims. This author examines media reports which deal with the testimony of women who lived through the period of social conflict (1960 to 1994) covered by the TRC. Building on theories that argue that media can create as well as reflect reality, the authors shows that women were not adequately represented in the media reports on the TRC, and thus in the public mind, in spite of efforts to include them in the TRC process. Thus, although the TRC process may have been helpful to individual women, it can be argued that it has had little impact on how people view women's role in South Africa, and more generally in armed conflict and social unrest world-wide.

  • 1 'I'he TRC Finial report shows that, while six out of every ten deponents were women, over 75% of the women's testimonies and 88% of the men's testimonies were about abuses to men. Only 17% of women's testimonies and 5% of the men's were about abuses to women.

  • 2 White men certainly made up the highest figure of those applying for amnesty, but, for instance, it is known that men involved in the liberation struggle were also perpetrators. The latter tended to be discouraged from applying individually for amnesty, both because the ANC applied for a blanket amnesty and because of the attitude that crimes committed in the struggle against apartheid cannot be equated with those committed in its name. This basic tension was never adequately resolved by the TRC.

  • 3 Sce, for example, the work of�ohann Gaining and the Transcend network.

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