A Need for ‘Truth’

Amnesty and the Origins and Consequences of the trc Process

in International Journal of Public Theology
Restricted Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


The origins of the South African trc process, which made such a dramatic contribution towards opening up a new more inclusive political culture in post-apartheid South Africa, are usually found in the constitutional negotiations and settlement reflected in the Postamble of the 1993 Interim Constitution. This article starts from the apparent paradox that a secretive amnesty pact by political elites could have been responsible for a public truth process uncovering human rights violations in past political conflicts. It suggests that an alternative trc genealogy may rather be found in the public amnesty debate since mid-1992 that issued in a civil society-based proposal for a truth and reconciliation process. The ‘amnesty for truth’ compromise, conjoining the political elites’ concerns for amnesty with the human rights quest for a victim-based truth and reconciliation process, resulted in the incoherence of the actual trc process. The ambivalent legacy of the trc, shaped both by secretive elite political deals as well as by the quest for public truth in politics, still informs unresolved tensions in the Marikana Commission, and those between the Promotion of Access to Information Act and the controversial Protection of State Information Bill.

A Need for ‘Truth’

Amnesty and the Origins and Consequences of the trc Process

in International Journal of Public Theology




Adam AshforthThe Politics of Official Discourse in Twentieth Century South Africa (Oxford: Clarendon1990) pp. 1–2.


Anthony Lewis‘Do not Punish, But Do Not Forget’The Star (12 April 1990).


Padraig O’MalleyShades of Difference: Mac Maharaj and the Struggle for South Africa (New York: Viking2007) pp. 400–402; Albie Sachs ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ Southern Methodist Law Review 52 (1999) 1566–7.


Theresa PapenfusPik Botha and His Times (Pretoria: Litera2010) pp. 682–4. Those involved in Vance’s discussions included Pik Botha Kobie Coetsee Thabo Mbeki Pennuell Maduna and Matthews Phosa.


John Battersby‘South African Leader is Set to Allow Security Probe’Christian Science Monitor(10 August 1992) para. 6 <http://www.csmonitor.com/1992/0810/10061.html> [accessed 23 July 2014].


F.W. de KlerkDie Laaste Trek: ‘n Nuwe Begin (The Last Trek: A New Beginning) (Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau1999) pp. 269–70; Edith Bulbring ‘Kobie Wrecks Summit Deal’ Sunday Times (20 September 1992).


For example Brian Currin‘Forgiveneness Belongs Not to Those Who Have Sinned’Weekly Mail (14 August 1992); John Dugard ‘The Case for a Trial’ Sunday Star (27 September 1992); Gilbert Marcus and David Unterhalter ‘Slate-cleaning Pitfalls’ Star (3 October 1992).


Here is a partial listing: Shaun Johnson‘Cry Amnesty!’Pretoria News (19 August 1992) Hennie Serfontein ‘Ja vir amnestie nee vir gesigloosheid’ (Yes to Amnesty No to Facelessness) Vrye Weekblad (21 August 1992) relating the views of Archbishop Tutu Van Zyl Slabbert Proffessors Johan Heyns Willie Esterhuyse and Lourens du Plessis; R W Johnson ‘Shielding the State’s Top Guns’ Star (25 August 1992); Peter Gastrow ‘Pitfalls Lie in Amnesty Idea’ Star (9 September 1992); André du Toit ‘Why General Political Amnesty is Wrong’ Cape Times (22 September 1992); André du Toit ‘Amnestie vir moordenaars?’ (Amnesty for Murderers?) Die Suid-Afrikaan (November 1992); Hein Marais and Monty Narsoo ‘Amnesty Must be Able to Safeguard Future Democracy’ Business Day (25 September 1992); Hein Marais and Monty Narsoo ‘And Justice for All? The Debate about a General Amnesty’ Work in Progress 85 (1992) pp. 8–12); Kader Asmal ‘Should de Klerk be Tried?’ Mayibuye (30 September 1992); Joe Latakgomo ‘Releases Open Old Wounds’ Star (1 October 1992); Marinus Wiechers ‘The Blood on Our Hands’ Sunday Star (4 October 1992); Karen Chubb Mary Burton and Jenny de Tolly ‘Amnesty’ Black Sash National Newsletter Nr 5 (September 1992); Ken Owen ‘A Wicked Past Haunts a New Nation’s Birth’ Sunday Times (4 October 1992); Joe Slovo ‘Red Alert’ Business Day (9 October 1992); and Jacques Pauw ‘In Quest of Truth’ Sunday Star (11 October 1992).


Simon Barber‘There is No More ‘Moral High Ground’’Natal Mercury (24 July 1991).


Jo-Anne Collinge‘Launched on a Bloody Tide: Negotiating the New South Africa’South African Review6 (1992) 1–25 at 18–20. According to media reports General Joffel van der Westhuizen had actually sought formal authorization from the State Security Council in 1985 to ‘eliminate’ Matthews Goniwe one of the ‘Cradock 4’ whose killing had yet to be explained.


Shaun Johnson‘Forgetting Follows Forgiving, But First we Must have the Truth’The Star (8 August 1992).


Brian Currin‘Forgiveness Belongs Not to Those who have Sinned’Weekly Mail (14 August 1992).


Hein Marais and Monty Narsoo‘And Justice for All? The Debate about a General Amnesty’Work in Progress85 (1992) 8–16at 11.


Marinus Wiechers‘The Blood on our Hands’Sunday Star4 October 1992.


Kader Asmal‘Does State Want Amnesty or Amnesia?’Cape Times (13 October 1992).


F.W. de KlerkDie Laaste Trek pp. 334–6; Johan van der Merwe Trou tot die dood toe: Die Suid-Afrikaanse Polisiemag. (Loyal ‘til Death: The South African Police Service) (Dainfern: Praag 2010) pp. 212–13.


Paige Arthur‘How ‘Transitions’ Reshaped Human Rights: A Conceptual History of Transitional Justice’Human Rights Quarterly31 (2009) 321–67.


Ibid. p. 33.


Richard A. WilsonThe Politics of Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2001) Chapter 2: ‘Technologies of Truth: The trc’s Truth-Making Machine’ pp. 33–4; Lars Buur ‘Monumental Historical Memory: Managing Truth in the Everyday Work of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission’ in Deborah Posel and Graeme Simpson eds Commissioning the Past: Understanding South Africa’s trc (Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press 2002) pp. 66–93.

Index Card

Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 5 5 4
Full Text Views 13 13 13
PDF Downloads 3 3 3
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0