Was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission one of the worst things to happen to South Africa?

The somewhat controversial idea that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was one of the worst things to have happened to South Africa certainly isn’t mine nor is it new, but I am starting to see the rationale behind that thinking. One of the biggest criticism, not just of the TRC but of the entire democratic transition and the subsequent creation of the post-apartheid rainbow nation ideal, is that they fostered the false perception that all the hard stuff was out of the way now and that South Africa had, from thenceforth, become a non-racial state. The perception was false because South Africa was still the same racially divided country it had been before, except that, now, nobody was doing anything about the racial rifts because it was believed to have already been done.

This week I read the headline “1 million coloured jobs on the line” for what it was. It was a message to coloured voters to say that the ANC-led government had proposed the amendments to the Employment Equity Act with the intention of taking away coloured jobs to give them to blacks. It was a call on coloured voters not to vote for the ANC. The research that fuelled the headline was the product of the mainly-white trade union Solidarity and the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance.

And last week, Blade Nzimande, the higher education minister, created brouhaha by making reference to a “darkie government” during a parliamentary session. He was saying this in perpetuation of the belief that the Democratic Alliance is a majority-white party that does not believe blacks are fit to govern.

These incidents are hardly isolated and are to be expected, I suppose, especially now given that 2011 is a municipal election year. And while politics is the sector most guilty of exploiting racial differences to get ahead, other sectors too are equally as complicit if only by their inaction.

While on Twitter, lazily crowdsourcing the reasons for the continued racial divisions in South Africa, in-denial journalist Unathi Kondile said, “Changes [to address racial divides] need to happen on a structural level. Not just [by saying,] ‘We are fine!’” Not only do I agree, I’m beginning to suspect that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the whole rainbow nation ideal did just that. They denied South Africans the opportunity to address racial divides at a structural level by creating the perception that we were fine and as a result, the fissures remain.

There are murmurs. People, influential and otherwise, recognise that South Africa has not achieved the level of social cohesion that had been hoped. President Jacob Zuma has in a few of his speeches made reference to the need for a national dialogue on social cohesion and the presidency has produced a study on social cohesion and social justice in South Africa. In her state of the Western Cape address last week, opposition leader Helen Zille asked (and left unanswered), “How do we begin repairing our threadbare social fabric?”

The ship’s sailed on this, but perhaps the TRC would have done the country a greater service by dropping the “R” from its name and establishing a separate, indefinite-lived Reconciliation Commission. I’m not entirely certain what such a commission would have done (I have ideas), but, at the very least, its existence would have served as a reminder that healing is in South Africa’s future, not its past. As it stands now, nothing is being done, at least not at the scale it should be. Time is passing and I fear that though the scars may be healing, they will forever be ugly and visible, and likely to open into gaping wounds once again at the slightest provocation.

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6 thoughts on “Was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission one of the worst things to happen to South Africa?

  1. The truth and recnciliation commission is an artificial farce between whites and blacks dividing up the spoils of an invaded Southern Africa by their respective forefathers from hundreds of years before.

    No mention of the San and Khoi indigenous peoples whom their forefathers butchered like vermin to take their land and resources. The few remaining Bushmen had to surrender and move onto the farms of dutch settlers or risk being hunted and slaughtered in the wilds.

    Nowadays the last remaining of their descendants, the coloured peoples of the Western Cape, are fighting against slow genocide, the fabric of the cmmunity is being eroded from under them by malign neglect and reckless indifference to their socio-economic probllems and are positively being undermined by peddlers of poison. the pillars of the cmmunity are all on alcohol, mandrax, tik and in gangs or jail. no employent or educational prospects as these are being overrun and absorbed by masses of black Africans from the Eastern Cape.

    This is unofficial ANC policy with the backing of cosatu and sacp, who get their ideoogical inspiration from communist china and their population transfer tactics in Tibet. this is all just to forcefully change the demographics of the western cape and stuff it full of anc voters. just so the entire textile industry of the western cape, the backbone of the oloured community was obliterated by cheap and crappy chinese imports from sweatshops and human rights-abused labour force.

    Until these things are acknowledged and addressed and black africans stop their advance to power by destruction of the indigenous San people’s desendants, no amount of hand-wringing and pulling of hair will make people understand and tolerate each other.

  2. I’ve also heard these arguments that the TRC was something negative for South Africa before, and they’ve mainly argued the point that you make here as well. To be honest, I don’t the basis of the argument. The TRC was never meant to be seen as the be all and end all of reconciliation in South Africa & were it so then these critiques of it would be fair.

    Be that as it may, both you and Unathi are correct, there needs to be ‘major change in SA on a structural level’ as we aren’t ‘just fine.’ If the argument is that the conclusion of the TRC, somehow declared South Africa as being ‘fine,’ and that’s why it is an obstacle to reconciliation in South Africa I have to disagree. I – & think we all should – see the TRC as the opening chapter in the long and messy road of reconciliation in South Africa; ‘of’ not ‘to’ as reconciliation is an ongoing process, and I for one, I’m sad to say can’t see a point where we can definitively say, ‘we’re ok.’

    Essentially, if the govt, or us as South Africans have left things as they were on the day the last TRC hearing was held, that’s not a failure of the TRC, but rather a failure of the government, but more honestly, of us as South Africans.

    • T.O.M says:

      I agree Mvelase. There was a gap between the TRC’s stated mandate and what the general populace thought it stood for, which was that by the end of it, we’re all healed khumbaya.

  3. The TRC was an opportunity for healing and although it had its flaws, it did facilitate the transition to a new beginning for South Africa. The early 90s were an optimistic time for all South Africans.

    The greatest disservice done to South Africans was the introduction of BEE and affirmative action, although under apartheid a different form of affirmative action already existed. This policy allowed some ‘previously disadvantaged’ people to rapidly rise to the top of organisations without doing the hard graft and proving their worth. This caused resentment, and led to a brain drain. Eskom is an example of an organisation which has failed because of this policy.

    BEE continued to focus on race as an issue, in spite of the non racial constitution.

    True power comes from education, and it is here that South Africa has failed. More should have been done to educate all of South Africa’s people rather than those who could afford it. Last year’s matric results show a gulf between state education and privately funded schools.

    Rather than a new Reconciliation committee, South Africa has to face its problems head on. End all racist policies, and treat everyone equally as enshrined in the constitution. Improve education for all.

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mvelase, Sipho Hlongwane. Sipho Hlongwane said: No. RT @TOMolefe: Was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission one of the worst things to happen to South Africa? http://wp.me/pf8rt-4Q […]

  5. Kay-One says:

    I think the TRC, was suppose to initiate the discussions, to bring issues to the front, and not to be END (Finish & Klaar). Question I have, is should WE (somewhat sociable and sane Saffers) allow the Racial discussion to be led by Julius and Hofmeyer??

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